All 6 Baroness Goldie contributions to the Armed Forces Act 2021

Tue 7th Sep 2021
Wed 27th Oct 2021
Tue 23rd Nov 2021
Mon 29th Nov 2021
Wed 8th Dec 2021
Armed Forces Bill
Lords Chamber

Consideration of Commons amendments
Tue 14th Dec 2021
Armed Forces Bill
Lords Chamber

Consideration of Commons amendments

Armed Forces Bill Debate

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Department: Ministry of Defence

Armed Forces Bill

Baroness Goldie Excerpts
2nd reading
Tuesday 7th September 2021

(4 months, 2 weeks ago)

Lords Chamber
Read Full debate Armed Forces Act 2021 - Government Bill Page Read Hansard Text
Moved by
Baroness Goldie Portrait Baroness Goldie
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That the Bill be now read a second time.

Baroness Goldie Portrait The Minister of State, Ministry of Defence (Baroness Goldie) (Con)
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My Lords, it is a privilege to be speaking to the Armed Forces Bill this afternoon. Without this Bill, the Armed Forces Act 2006—the legislation that maintains the Armed Forces as a disciplined body—could not continue in force beyond the end of this year.

This Bill is for the Armed Forces. We have the best Armed Forces in the world; their professionalism and dignity has recently and vividly been displayed to us with the evacuation of over 14,500 people from Kabul airport to the safety of the UK. That draw-down operation was no easy undertaking, with the ever-present risk of attack and the emotionally charged, hostile environment that our service personnel found themselves operating within. It is their professionalism, integrity and resolute fortitude to get the job done that shone through.

The Government acknowledge their responsibility to the new arrivals from Afghanistan; as such, Operation Warm Welcome is fully under way to support and provide the necessary assistance where required. We owe an immense debt to those arrivals, and this Government are determined that we give them and their families the support they need to rebuild their lives here in the UK.

I acknowledge that many of us have questions about what has happened in Afghanistan. As the Prime Minister said,

“the events in Afghanistan have unfolded faster, and the collapse has been faster, than I think even the Taliban themselves predicted.”—[Official Report, Commons, 18/8/21; col. 1254.]

As the Defence Secretary said, “the die was cast” when President Trump struck a deal with the Taliban, paving the way for our exit. However, I reaffirm to your Lordships that we will now use every diplomatic and humanitarian lever at our disposal to restore stability to Afghanistan, and the Prime Minister has been clear that that will require a concerted and co-ordinated effort from the international community. None the less, this must not overshadow what our brave service personnel have achieved in Afghanistan, nor indeed their tireless efforts domestically at the forefront of the battle against the global pandemic. Therefore, I ask your Lordships to join me in commending and saluting their manifold accomplishments, and we can do that in tangible form by supporting this Bill.

This leads me to the integrated review. During the passage of the Bill in the other place, questions were raised over prospective reductions in service strength and, in turn, whether such reductions have negatively impacted our operational ability; for example, in Afghanistan. The integrated review is about the future; it is not about the past, and our military operations in Afghanistan are now at a close. Furthermore, it would be disingenuous to suggest that any variations in the overall Armed Forces strength figures could be directly and meaningfully linked to delivery of specific outputs. It is simplistic to say that there is a direct correlation between overall Armed Forces strength figures and capabilities. I reassure your Lordships that the UK Armed Forces continue to meet all their operational commitments, and we expect them to continue to do so, and our capability will be designed to meet a new age of threat.

Finally, before I turn to the Bill, I wish to say a few words about the recently published report from the House of Commons Defence Committee on women in the Armed Forces. I extend my gratitude to the members of that committee for their well-balanced and thoughtful report. I reassure your Lordships that we are giving the report serious consideration and the Ministry of Defence will publish its response soon.

Your Lordships will also be anticipating the outcome of the review led by Sir Richard Henriques, which was announced last year. We are very grateful for the comprehensive work Sir Richard has been undertaking. I expect to be able to update your Lordships in early course, and certainly in time for your Lordships to consider the matter during the passage of this Bill.

Without further ado, I now turn to the Bill. There is an Armed Forces Bill every five years to renew the legislation that governs the Armed Forces. This is currently the Armed Forces Act 2006, which contains nearly all the provisions for the existence of a system for the Armed Forces of command, discipline and justice. The requirement for renewal of the 2006 Act is based on the assertion in the Bill of Rights 1688 that the Army—and now, by extension, the Royal Air Force and the Royal Navy—may not be maintained within the kingdom without the consent of Parliament.

I wish to be quite clear that this Bill must pass to renew the 2006 Act by the end of this year, because current legislation does not provide for the 2006 Act to be extended beyond 2021. Your Lordships will understand that if we fail to effect that renewal, there would be serious consequences. For example, if the Act expired, members of the Armed Forces would still owe allegiance to Her Majesty and would have a legal duty to obey lawful commands, but there would be no penalties for disobeying orders or for other types of indiscipline. Service offences would cease to exist, commanding officers and service police would lose their statutory powers to investigate offences and enforce discipline, and the service courts would no longer function.

Discipline in every sense is fundamental to and underpins the existence of our Armed Forces. Indeed, it is the reason for their success in the discharge of their remarkable range of duties. That is why renewal of the 2006 Act is so important, and renewal is the primary purpose of this Bill. That is what Clause 1 provides for: the continuation of the 2006 Act for a year from the date on which this Bill receives Royal Assent. It also provides for renewal thereafter by Order in Council, for up to a year at a time, until the end of 2026. The Bill also provides us with a regular opportunity to update legislation for the Armed Forces.

I turn to service courts, summary hearings and jurisdiction. In 2017, in preparation for this Bill, the MoD commissioned an independent review of the service justice system to ensure that it continues to be transparent, fair and efficient. The review, led by His Honour Shaun Lyons, made a significant number of recommendations for improvement and this Bill deals with the small number that need primary legislation to be implemented, including changes to the constitution of the court martial and a power to correct mistakes, which is called a “slip rule”. Clause 7 deals with the issue of concurrent jurisdiction. For offences committed by service personnel in the UK, justice can be delivered through the civilian criminal justice system or the service justice system.

Importantly, the service justice system review found that the service justice system was fair and robust. But it also proposed that some of the most serious offences should not be prosecuted at court martial when they are committed by service personnel in the UK, except where the consent of the Attorney-General is given. To be clear, the review was not saying that the service justice system should stop dealing with certain categories of cases which occur in the UK. Rather, it was saying that, when such cases come up, controls should be introduced if they are to be tried in the service justice system. Meanwhile, jurisdiction would remain to deal with such cases overseas. I reassure your Lordships that the Government considered this recommendation fully and carefully and concluded that concurrency of jurisdiction must remain.

We have highly skilled, capable and effective service police, who have equivalent serious crime training to civilian police. They also follow procedures and processes used by civilian police, and, so far as investigations are concerned, are independent from the chain of command. Indeed, a process audit which was part of the Lyons review found that the service police have the necessary training, skills and experience to investigate any crime.

The Service Prosecuting Authority is headed up by a civilian, Jonathan Rees QC, who is a leading criminal silk and eminently qualified to lead the Service Prosecution Authority in prosecuting these and all types of offences. When he took up the position of director, he seconded, to lead on rape for the SPA, the former head of the Thames and Chiltern CPS rape and serious sexual offences unit, with all the experience and knowledge that brings. The judges who sit in the court martial are also civilians who frequently sit in the Crown Court. So we are confident that the service justice system is capable of dealing with all offences, whatever their seriousness and wherever they occur. But we agree that the current non-statutory protocols and guidance around jurisdiction must be clearer. That is why Clause 7 places a duty on the heads of the service and civilian prosecutors in England and Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland to agree protocols regarding the exercise of concurrent jurisdiction.

We believe that such decisions on jurisdiction are best left to the independent service justice and UK civilian prosecutors using guidance agreed between them, but the Bill ensures that the civilian prosecutors will have the final say should a disagreement on jurisdiction between the prosecutors remain unresolved. I want to be clear here: this is not about seeking to direct more cases into the service justice system and away from the civilian criminal justice system or vice versa. It is about guaranteeing that both systems can handle all offending and are equally equipped to deliver justice for victims.

I turn to the Armed Forces covenant, which the Bill takes important steps to strengthen. Clause 8 imposes a duty to have due regard to the three principles of the covenant on certain public bodies across the UK. It is perhaps helpful to remind your Lordships of the three principles of the Armed Forces covenant: first, the unique obligations of, and sacrifices made by, the Armed Forces; secondly, the principle that it is desirable to remove disadvantages arising for servicepeople from membership, or former membership, of the Armed Forces; and, thirdly, the principle that special provision for servicepeople may be justified by the effects on such people of membership, or former membership, of the Armed Forces.

Clause 8 inserts new sections into the 2006 Act to impose the duty in each of the four nations of the United Kingdom. The new duty will apply where particular types of public bodies or persons are exercising certain of their public functions in key areas of housing, education, and healthcare, which are vital to the day-to-day lives of our Armed Forces community.

In the area of housing, the duty covers bodies that are responsible for developing housing allocation policy for social housing, homelessness policy and the administration of disabled facilities grants, which can be vital for injured veterans.

In education, we know that our service families sometimes face challenges, due to their service-related lifestyle, in accessing suitable school places for their children. Specific challenges may present themselves in relation to service children with special educational needs or disabilities—as it is described in England—when attempting to maintain continuity of provision to meet their needs. We know that some service children have specific well-being needs and this duty will target those who are responsible for this, ensuring that they understand and consider the specific needs of our community’s children.

In healthcare, much has already been achieved, but service families and veterans may still experience disadvantages, often caused by their mobility or healthcare requirements resulting from military service. This duty will apply to all bodies that are responsible for commissioning and delivering healthcare services across the UK.

At this point it would be useful to remind your Lordships that health, education and housing are all matters for which the devolved Administrations are responsible, and they are administered as best suits those nations. However, the Government have been delighted with the proactive support we have had from colleagues in the home nations for the covenant as a whole and for this legislation in particular.

Guidance will be crucial to ensure that bodies subject to the new duty understand the principles of the covenant and the ways in which members of our Armed Forces community can suffer disadvantage arising from service. Clause 8 provides that the Secretary of State may issue guidance in relation to the duties imposed to which those subject to the duty must have regard when exercising a relevant function, and he must consult with the respective devolved authorities where this is relevant, and other appropriate stakeholders, before issuing the guidance.

The Bill also provides for the covenant duty to be extended in the future. The Secretary of State may, by regulations, widen the scope of the new duty to include additional functions and bodies in other areas. However, before doing so, he would be required to consult the relevant devolved authorities and other appropriate stakeholders, and any amendment—this is important—would have to be made by way of affirmative regulations, requiring the express consent of Parliament.

Clause 9 deals with a new continuous service commitment that will enable members of a Reserve Force to volunteer to undertake a period of full-time or part-time service. This offers a more flexible suite of engagement options for reservists, incorporating seamless movement between full and part-time service under the Reserve Forces Act 1996, and empowers defence with greater freedoms to introduce further modernising changes to reserves commitment types.

Clause 10 creates a power to change the minimum time limit for submitting an appeal against a first-level decision in a service complaint from six weeks to two weeks. It also provides the ability to restrict the grounds on which someone can appeal. There are good reasons to make these changes.

Currently, the 2006 Act provides for a minimum time limit for submitting appeals of six weeks, and this is the time limit set in regulations. However, we believe that in most circumstances two weeks is adequate for someone to submit an appeal. Not all service personnel are engaged in the same type of work; many are engaged in roles such as working in offices, where a two-week deadline would be appropriate. This approach is in keeping with other public sector complaints systems. However, of course, we recognise that there are circumstances in which it would not be appropriate to restrict the time to appeal to two weeks, such as for those deployed on operational duties or those in poor health. In such cases, an extension can be sought.

We also need to ensure that people have good reason to appeal. Currently a complainant need only say that they are unhappy with the decision. We believe that appeals should be permitted only where there were procedural errors or where new evidence is provided that may change the outcome of the original decision. Where a complainant’s request to move a service complaint to the appeals stage has been deemed inadmissible, they are entitled to ask for a review of that decision by the Service Complaints Ombudsman.

Clause 10 and Schedule 3 are part of wider reforms to support service personnel through the complaints system, to increase efficiency and to reduce delay within the service complaints process. Other reforms, which do not require primary legislation, will provide guidance agreed with the Service Complaints Ombudsman on the criteria and grounds for appeal, early access to an assisting officer, mandated offers of informal resolution, easy-read guides for complainants and respondents, and improvements to forms for lodging complaints.

We have to ensure that we modernise and reduce delay in the service complaints system, creating where we can a consistent experience across defence, and following best practice from other parts of the public sector. It is crucial that our service personnel feel confident that complaining will not adversely impact on them. Therefore, complaints must be dealt with appropriately and in a timely fashion to build that trust further.

Clause 11 amends the 2006 Act to create a new regime for complaints against the service police and related matters. It does so by establishing the service police complaints commissioner and enabling the creation of a regime for complaints, conduct matters and death or serious injury matters which is modelled on the regime for the civilian police in England and Wales. The clause also contains powers that will enable provision to be made in relation to both super-complaints and whistleblowing, which will be modelled on the regime for the civilian police in England and Wales.

The new independent service police complaints commissioner will oversee the new complaints regime and will carry out investigations into the most serious allegations against the service police. The commissioner will also have overall responsibility for securing the maintenance of suitable arrangements for making complaints and dealing with other serious matters. The creation of this new oversight regime brings the service police into line with their civilian counterparts.

The Bill also addresses sentencing and rehabilitation. It would enable the court martial and the Service Civilian Court to disqualify offenders from driving in the UK and deprivation orders to be made in the service justice system. The Bill also makes some minor technical adjustments to the rehabilitation periods for reprimands.

Finally, among the main provisions in the Bill are steps to right the wrongs of the past which ensure that posthumous pardons for those who were convicted of historic service offences relating to their sexuality also apply fully to convictions under older legislation governing the Army and the marines.

This Armed Forces Bill makes important changes to the service justice system, bringing forward the sound recommendations of the Lyons review that require primary legislation. The Bill ensures that our service justice system remains fit for purpose, and, importantly, it will strengthen the legislative basis of the Armed Forces covenant to help ensure that those who serve and have served, and their families, are treated with fairness and respect in the communities they serve.

I look forward to the detailed scrutiny which we shall give the Bill in Committee and I commend it to the House.

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Baroness Goldie Portrait Baroness Goldie (Con)
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My Lords, I begin by quoting my immediate predecessor, the noble Lord, Lord Tunnicliffe, who said that this has been an excellent debate. He is absolutely correct—we have heard many thought-provoking contributions. What has left a lasting impression on me from this afternoon’s proceedings is the many impassioned speeches made on behalf of our Armed Forces. I thank your Lordships for that warmth and affection, and for the cross-party support of the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, who opened for the Opposition, of the noble Baroness, Lady Smith of Newnham, and from the Cross Benches. That attitude and those contributions reflect the deep and abiding affection and support that our service men and women, veterans and the broader service community enjoy in this House and beyond.

Of course, as the noble Lord, Lord Bilimoria, said, we should also remember that a tremendous contribution has been made over decades by our Commonwealth forces and veterans. Bringing it right up to date, my noble friend Lord Trenchard rightly reminded us of the role of our reservists in Operation Rescript, so there is much of which we can be very proud and certainly much for which we are very grateful. In turn, this mirrors the desire of your Lordships to make certain that this Bill can deliver measures that have a profound and far-reaching benefit to those who guard and shield the nation.

As the noble Lord, Lord Tunnicliffe, said, support for this Bill is strong and widespread. I appreciate the interest shown and the questions about certain measures and wider issues. I will address as many of your Lordships’ concerns as I can in the time available.

I was interested in the points made by the noble Baroness, Lady Garden of Frognal. One was perhaps predictable, because her assiduous work on behalf of war widows is, rightly, widely respected and acknowledged. Her plea for war widows, for whom she so tirelessly advocates, is heard. I can say that there is a desire to find a solution and all avenues are currently being explored; I use the word “currently” advisedly. I hope it will be possible to report further on that in the not- too-distant future.

The noble Baroness, Lady Garden of Frognal, also asked about overturning decisions of the Service Complaints Ombudsman. That ombudsman is of course independent but, as with other ombudsmen and ombudswomen, their recommendations are taken seriously but are not in themselves binding. However, I was interested to hear the noble Baroness’s contribution.

I also want to deal with one or two important points made by the noble Lord, Lord Dannatt, which I noted down. In character, the noble Lord raised a multiplicity of thought-provoking and important issues, and I will look at Hansard and endeavour to respond to him. He referred to the Gurkha hunger strike, which I am pleased to say has now come to an end. My colleague the Minister for Defence People and Veterans, and the Defence Secretary, will meet Gurkha welfare groups shortly to discuss all welfare concerns. I know that the noble Lord, Lord Bilimoria, was also concerned about that.

I was not surprised to find that a lot of the discussion this afternoon concerned the covenant. There was widespread acknowledgement that placing it in legislation is good news; indeed, my noble and learned friend Lord Mackay of Clashfern rightly identified the important message that this sends to our Armed Forces, as did the noble Lord, Lord Dannatt. However, I certainly noted the concerns articulated by a number of noble Lords, not least the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, and the noble Baroness, Lady Smith.

In response to the specific point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, my noble friend Lord Astor of Hever and my noble and learned friend Lord Mackay of Clashfern on why the legislation will not apply to central government, I would say that government is held to account by Parliament and the purpose of the covenant duty is to raise awareness among providers of these public services of how service life can disadvantage the Armed Forces community in accessing these key public services. The MoD is fully aware of issues that impact the Armed Forces community, and we work with other departments and organisations across not just government but the United Kingdom to raise awareness, to access concerns—as best we can—and to help facilitate the resolution of problems. The MoD and central government more widely are already held to account in the delivery of the covenant by the statutory requirement to report progress against the covenant annually to Parliament. That will remain a legal obligation. I realise that that will not satisfy all noble Lords, but I shall anticipate with interest how your Lordships who are concerned about the omission of Governments—indeed, I think it was my noble friend Lord Astor who specifically mentioned the Scottish Government—explore and broaden out these genuine issues.

As in the other place, a number of noble Lords have argued that the scope of duty for the covenant is too narrow and that it should be broadened beyond housing, healthcare and education. We have chosen the scope of the duty carefully and in consultation with the Armed Forces community because we know that these issues will make the greatest improvements to family life. Indeed, I am grateful to my noble friend Lord Lancaster for recognising that. Significantly, of course, the Bill contains provisions for us to expand the scope into other areas through secondary legislation at a later date. I was asked for an assurance that this will be reviewed regularly. I am happy to give that assurance: the scope of the provision will be reviewed regularly. This is not the end of our legislative effort; it is the beginning.

A number of noble Lords, not least the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, the noble Baroness, Lady Smith, and a number of others, claim that the new legal duty is not strong enough. They are concerned that creating a legal duty “to pay due regard” to the principles does not go far enough. I know there has been talk in the other place from the Opposition Benches of needing to set “measurable national standards”. I think our challenge throughout this has been one of striking a balance. On the one hand we wanted to ensure delivery against the covenant principles, but on the other we wanted to avoid the sort of prescriptive approach that puts bureaucratic barriers in the way of practical delivery. Your Lordships will understand that when we are dealing with constituted local authorities which are entitled to a degree of government autonomy to make their own democratic decisions about what they wish to do, and with devolved Governments who have legislative competence to deal with delivery of these policy areas, we have to be very careful that we are not setting down a prescriptive approach which could be provocative, inimical and, in that respect, fairly unhelpful. I assure your Lordships that public bodies were consulted extensively, and our decision also reflects the diverse nature of public services across the country, but the Government will monitor responses and we are obliged, as I said earlier, to submit an annual report on the covenant to Parliament.

Predictably, the issue of the service justice system invited significant and extensive comment. I was pleased to hear noble Lords refer to the important reviews of the service justice system. I, too, have considered the reviews of His Honour Shaun Lyons and Professor Sir Jon Murphy, and it is their recommendations that underpin the improvements to the service justice system that we are taking forward in the Bill.

The noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford, with his considerable experience in this field, raised this issue. He sought a further explanation about why the Government were adopting the particular course they have chosen. That was, to some extent, echoed by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd. As I said at the beginning of this debate, while we accept the need to improve the decision-making process in relation to concurrent jurisdiction, we do not believe that the introduction of an Attorney-General consent function is the best way to achieve it, because Attorney-General consent arises at the end of the investigatory process, when key decisions on jurisdiction have already been made. I find it hard to see what the attorney adds if he or she is endorsing decisions already made. If the attorney were to disagree with those earlier decisions and veto a case being tried in the service justice system, there is no easy way to transfer that case to the civilian system. This could have the undesired effect of making it difficult or impossible to prosecute the case in either system; I think we all need to reflect upon this. The Government believe they have opted for a more pragmatic approach. As I said earlier, Clause 7 ensures that decisions on jurisdiction are left to the independent service justice and UK civilian prosecutors using guidance they have agreed between themselves. I do not consider that politicians should meddle in that. It is the case that the civilian prosecutors will have the final say as to within which jurisdiction the matter will be tried if there were disagreements.

The noble and learned Lord, Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd, raised three significant points to which I listened with interest: first, should Parliament approve the prosecutor’s protocol and, secondly, in the choice of jurisdiction, should there be a right of appeal? He also suggested that it must be an error that this applies only in the United Kingdom. The Government seek to go with the grain of existing non-statutory arrangements. There is an existing non-statutory protocol between service and civilian prosecutors, and putting it on a statutory basis will bring clarity and transparency. On the specific points the noble and learned Lord raised, I suggest that there is no need for parliamentary approval for this type of protocol because this follows the precedent for the statutory Code for Crown Prosecutors, and that is not subject to that type of approval. On the second point, the Government see these as decisions for prosecutors. They are not subject to appeal at present; we are not looking to change that. On the third point, no, it is not a drafting error that it applies only to the United Kingdom. The purpose of this provision is to guide how civilian and service authorities within the United Kingdom manage these matters. Overseas matters are different—not least that they are often governed by a status of forces agreement.

I have endeavoured to explain why the Government have not just pulled this out of the air. Careful thought has been given to these proposals. I think it is worth reminding ourselves that the current situation was established by the Armed Forces Act 2006; that is the legislation that Parliament approved back then. I appreciate that that was under a Government of a different hue but, none the less, Parliament approved it and established jurisdictional concurrency by allowing murder, manslaughter and rape in the UK to be tried as service offences. It is that legal principle that the Bill supports, and that is why it is drafted as it is.

A number of your Lordships raised the comparative statistics on conviction rates between the service justice system and the civilian criminal justice system. I have to say—and I have looked at this—that I do not think it is possible to make a meaningful statistical or data comparison between the service and civilian justice systems. The service justice system review makes it clear that it is not possible to make accurate comparisons of outcomes in the systems as the relatively low number of cases and the small database in the service justice system mean that variances have a disproportionate effect on percentage values, which can subsequently lead to false conclusions.

A number of your Lordships referred to the House of Commons Select Committee report, which the MoD is currently considering; we shall publish our response shortly. On some of the criticisms which were levelled by your Lordships about the efficacy of the service justice system dealing with rape and serious sexual offences, we are confident that the service justice system provides an effective and fair system of justice for the men and women in the UK’s Armed Forces. It is interesting to note that the forces themselves do not report a lack of confidence in the system. The latest continuous attitude survey showed that 64% of the service population thought that the service justice system was fair, which compares with around 69% of the civilian population who think that the criminal justice system is fair. I am merely offering to your Lordships some basis for the approach which the Government have chosen.

A number of your Lordships raised the very important matter of mental health and mental health support: the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, and the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, spoke movingly about this, and the noble Lord, Lord Hay of Ballyore, referred to it, as did my noble friend Lord Balfe. It is correct that as our service personnel return home from testing operations, there is little doubt that in future years, sadly, an increasing number of veterans may suffer from mental health issues.

The MoD is committed to the mental health and well-being of our Armed Forces personnel and recognises that service life can cause stress. All Armed Forces personnel are supported by dedicated medical services, including mental health support. The MoD works with the single services, the Defence Medical Services and other stakeholders to promote mental fitness, prevent ill-health and try to reduce stigma. A lot of work has been done in that respect, of which I think many of your Lordships are aware.

I emphasise that an online mental health fundamentals course is available to all Armed Forces personnel, and since 2021 an annual mental health briefing is mandatory for all Armed Forces personnel. The MoD provides a 24-hour mental health helpline for Armed Forces personnel and their families, delivered by Combat Stress. That has been one of the most important developments in recent years. Togetherall allows Armed Forces personnel access to its 24-hour staffed digital forum and the Samaritans delivers bespoke workplace training and a peer support pocket guide providing guidance on how to talk to and support colleagues struggling to cope with mental health.

I think it was the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, who sought information about resource. From the information I have available, in 2020-2021, NHS England provided £16.5 million for veteran-specific mental health services, which increased to £17.8 million for 2021-22. In addition, the Government are also accelerating a new NHS England high-intensity mental health service for veterans who have acute mental health needs and are in crisis.

I refer to yesterday’s announcement that additional funding will be allocated to a range of projects that will increase capacity in mental health charities. There will be a £5 million boost to help increase the user-friendliness and accessibility of services and better signposting of veterans to the range of services available. I hope that that reassures your Lordships that this is an area in which we are determined to do our very best and that we endeavour to support our veterans in every way we can.

In the time remaining I will address specific points that were raised. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Morris of Aberavon, is not with us. He explained to me that an urgent domestic matter has commanded his attention, requiring him to leave early, and I thank him for his courtesy. He raised important points, and, although he is not here, I will address them because they concern the courts martial.

His honour Shaun Lyons in the service justice system review concluded that there remained the need for a separate service justice system. The court martial system largely follows the Crown Court procedure, and the Bill takes the court martial system closer to that civilian system. While it is true that the Bill retains the possibility of 2:1 majorities, the intention is that three-member panels will deal only with less serious offending, and serious offending will be dealt with by six-member panels. His honour Shaun Lyons considered but rejected the possibility of voting being announced; voting is not currently published.

My noble friend Lord Lancaster raised the fact that the Armed Forces Act 2006 no longer applies to Gibraltar. I am aware that this is an issue which my noble friend dealt with extensively when a Minister in the Ministry of Defence. While it is true that the 2006 Act no longer extends to Gibraltar, the Bill contains an important provision on Gibraltar. Clause 19 confirms that Gibraltar legislation can apply the Armed Forces Act 2006, which means that Gibraltar can make provision so that the Royal Gibraltar Regiment can make use of the UK service justice system.

The noble and gallant Lord, Lord Craig of Radley, raised the important and interesting issue of what I would describe as a statutory spring clean: could we make future Armed Forces Bills more straightforward, easier to read and to understand? As regards spring cleaning, that is a kind of floor-to-ceiling job with the curtains included as well, so I undertake to have a meeting with the noble and gallant Lord to discuss those issues further.

The noble Lord, Lord Dannatt, asked whether we have figures for interpreters returning to this country. During Operation Pitting, between 15 and 29 August up to 5,000 Afghan locally employed staff and families were relocated under the Afghan Relocations and Assistance Policy. Prior to Operation Pitting and between 22 June and 14 August, a further 2,000 were relocated, and in the last six weeks 7,000 locally employed staff and families were evacuated in total. These are the figures I have at the moment. Obviously, they may change on a day-to-day basis, but we have all been aware of the noble Lord’s herculean efforts to keep this matter at the forefront of the attention of government and the British public, and I pay tribute to him for those efforts.

My noble friend Lord Lancaster and the noble Lords, Lord Dannatt and Lord Bilimoria, raised the matter of visa settlement fees. We recognise that settlement fees may place a financial burden on some serving personnel wishing to remain in the UK. The Defence Secretary has met with the Home Secretary to consider how we could offer greater flexibility in the future. As was indicated, a public consultation was launched on 26 May 2021, which closed on 7 July. We are currently analysing the feedback from that consultation and we shall respond in due course.

My noble friend Lord Lexden raised the very important matter of Clause 18, and I am grateful to him for mentioning the significance of that clause. He rightly mentioned Professor Johnson and the noble Lord, Lord Cashman. I wish to use this opportunity to pay tribute to their incredible efforts to bring Clause 18 to fruition, and I think the Chamber would wish to acquiesce in these sentiments.

Finally, an interesting contribution, if slightly not in the mainstream, came from the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett of Manor Castle. She referred to “child soldiers”, which is a term that few of us in this Chamber recognise—it is certainly not one that the Armed Forces recognise. We have a very healthy cadet programme where young people, on their own admission, have marvellous opportunities and thoroughly enjoy the experience, and that seems to be a very positive initiative in this country.

The Armed Forces covenant covers those who have been in regular service. It applies to all service personnel and veterans, and a veteran is a person with at least one day’s service. On the noble Baroness’s specific question about export licences, I refer her to the Department for International Trade, because that is its responsibility.

In conclusion, I thank everyone for their valued contributions. If my memory serves well, back in February I said to this House during the debate on the Armed Forces Act (Continuation) Order that I anticipated an interesting and lively debate on this Bill. In that regard, I am certain that none of us has been disappointed. I have enjoyed the debate and found it stimulating. I look forward to the detailed scrutiny we shall give the Bill in Committee, and I commend it to the House.

Bill read a second time and committed to a Grand Committee.

Armed Forces Bill Debate

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Department: Ministry of Defence

Armed Forces Bill

Baroness Goldie Excerpts
Committee stage
Wednesday 27th October 2021

(2 months, 3 weeks ago)

Grand Committee
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Moved by
1: Schedule 1, page 40, line 9, at end insert—
“(3A) After subsection (2) insert—“(2A) In the case of proceedings where the number of lay members would (but for this subsection) be three, a judge advocate may, in accordance with Court Martial rules, direct that the number of lay members is to be four.””Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment would allow a judge advocate to direct that a Court Martial should comprise four rather than three lay members. Court Martial rules will set out the circumstances in which such a direction may be made.
Baroness Goldie Portrait The Minister of State, Ministry of Defence (Baroness Goldie) (Con)
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My Lords, it is a great pleasure to join you in Committee this afternoon to discuss amendments to the Armed Forces Bill. Without further delay, I shall speak to group 1, which comprises government Amendments 1, 2 and 4 as well as Amendment 3, tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford, and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd, dealing with the constitution of the court martial.

Clause 2 will fix the number of lay members on a court martial board at either three or six. The amendment will give judge advocates the power to direct that a fourth lay member be sworn in to what would normally be a three-member court martial board. The court martial rules will set out the circumstances in which such directions can be made. If a four-member board loses a member, it will be able to carry on with the remaining three members and reach a verdict.

We are making this amendment because the Covid pandemic showed the need for greater flexibility in the service courts as board members were taken ill or had to self-isolate, particularly following the “pingdemic” earlier this year. This measure is a practical arrangement that seeks to future-proof the service justice system against this type of situation, or any other unforeseen circumstances that may arise in future. It will introduce flexibility to the system and ensure that more trials are effective and that victims and witnesses are not subjected to delays in the system. If we do not make the amendment, when a panel member is lost from a three-member board, the only options open to the judge advocate would be either to adjourn the proceedings until that lay member is available again or to halt the trial altogether. This would introduce an unwelcome delay to the administration of justice, which would especially affect victims and witnesses, and in some cases could actually mean that a retrial was required.

The approach that we have taken is based on the current legislation for the court martial. When a trial is likely to last more than 10 days in the UK, or five days when overseas, there is an existing arrangement whereby the judge advocate is able to direct that there should be one or two more members than the current minimum number of lay members for a trial. Where a four member-board remains in place until the end of the trial, at least three members of a board of four must agree on a finding. If it is reduced to three members, at least two out of three must agree.

We have consulted the Judge Advocate-General on this amendment, and he supports it as a means to improve service justice system efficiency and provide flexibility to deal with unexpected events in future. I hope that your Lordships agree that this is a sensible measure that will allow the court martial to continue to operate in difficult times and prevent unnecessary delay for victims and witnesses of crime.

I turn Amendment 3, which would create a statutory requirement for the judge advocate to determine the appropriate sentence alone, having consulted the military lay members of the board. This would reverse the current position whereby the military members of the board and the judge advocate together discuss and vote on an appropriate sentence.

Interestingly, the change sought by noble Lords is not something that His Honour Shaun Lyons recommended in the service justice review. The Armed Forces community is different from the civilian community and it is important that we recognise that. It is obviously the one with which we are familiar, but it is a very different environment within the Armed Forces community.

The board votes on sentence because it is best placed to fully appreciate the context of the offending, the background of the offender and the deterrent effect of any sentence on the wider service. Moreover, some sentences, such as demotion or detention for corrective training, are specific to life in the services. The board has the expertise to judge whether they might be appropriate or effective.

It is worth emphasising that members of the military are governed by a more stringent set of rules and restrictions than those of us in civilian life. These rules are designed to maintain discipline and promote operational effectiveness so that they can get the job done. Many of these additional rules and restrictions to which service personnel are subject apply regardless of whether they are on or off duty. An in-depth understanding of these rules and the context in which they apply form a key part of reaching an appropriate sentence.

To give a simple example, a civilian turning up late for work in a supermarket does not have the same impact on operational effectiveness as the same situation with a marine engineer on a nuclear deterrent submarine that is about to leave port. Members of the Armed Forces will have a broader and deeper understanding of the implications of this type of behaviour.

I reassure noble Lords that the sentencing process is already subject to stringent legal controls and oversight. The court martial is required by law to have regard to the Sentencing Council’s sentencing guidelines, which must be followed by the civilian courts. It can depart from these guidelines only if this is justified by the service context.

The Judge Advocate-General also issues guidance and sentencing for the service courts. The judge advocate makes the decision on sentence with the board, so everyone involved is fully aware of the relevant legislation and guidelines. Judge advocates also regularly sit in the Crown Court and bring that experience and expertise to the deliberations of the court martial. Further judicial oversight is provided by the Court Martial Appeal Court, made up of judges who sit in the Criminal Division of the Court of Appeal.

The current system is both legally sound and ensures that sentences take account of the service context. This amendment would not add any significant legal safeguards to those that already exist. It would move the emphasis away from the court martial being a part of a service justice system in which discipline is maintained by and for the Armed Forces and service personnel. It also diminishes the importance of the service context in sentencing and places a barrier between the service person being sentenced and those with whom they serve.

I hope I have managed to explain fully why the Government have a reservation about this amendment. I therefore urge the noble Lord to withdraw it, and I beg to move the amendment standing in my name.

Lord Thomas of Gresford Portrait Lord Thomas of Gresford (LD)
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My Lords, I thank the Minister for seeing me and my noble friend Lady Smith yesterday, when we had a full and fruitful discussion of these issues. I very much support the thrust of this Bill, in particular, bringing the service justice system up to date and having majority verdicts at the heart of it.

Sentencing is a difficult and technical business. I suspect that I am the only person in this Room who has actually seen the judge in a case in which I was appearing put on a black cap and sentence my client to death. That was in Hong Kong. He was not actually executed but it is a solemn moment. Sentencing in the old days used to follow the verdict but not anymore. In any serious case there is an adjournment for sentencing to enable the judge to consider the sentencing guidelines, the pre-sentence reports, the technicalities which he or she must say in the sentencing remarks, the statements of relatives and the public interest in the whole matter. A balancing exercise is carried out.

Importantly, the guidelines may give the recommended range of the sentence, but the judge has to consider the aggravating and mitigating features of the case, which will increase or decrease the recommended sentence in the sentencing guidelines. If I can give an illustration, because it is apposite for next Saturday when Wales play the All Blacks, in rugby, a referee, with his touch judges or assistant referees and the television match official, will discuss something that might have happened. They talk together and they have the advantage of a replay of an incident from various angles so that they can actually see what happened, which does not happen in a court. But it is the referee who takes the decision, not the people who assist him in his decision.

In the court martial system, it is the panel that takes the decision on the sentence with the judge participating and advising. It is only if the board are equally divided that the judge has the casting vote. To take another example, in the magistrates’ court it is the decision of the magistrates, as advised by the clerk, who may or may not be legally qualified. The judge advocate is not a clerk advising; he is central to a trial. He controls the proceedings. He gives directions to the board and rulings, including dismissing the charges altogether, as happened in the 3 Para case in Colchester in 2005. There is an anomaly as well: if the defendant is a civilian subject to service discipline and thereby liable to court martial, the judge advocate sentences alone.

Of course, the panel could and should advise on any particular military facet of the case, but from my experience it should not be assumed that the members of the panel have any direct front-line operational experience comparable to that of the defendant before them. They might have, but there are many units and many roles in which modern British forces are involved. Very frequently, the officers on a court martial do not have anything like the same experience as the defendant and the pressures he has been under. On the other hand, the judge, who sits regularly as judge advocate in a military court, has considerable experience of the operational conditions from the cases that come before him.

Under the current system, an officer or warrant officer is summoned to be a member of the board, probably with no or limited experience of courts martial, save for the president. He might never have been near a court or a court martial, but he becomes a judge with very considerable powers. He will be given the responsibility of determining sentence in a difficult case. That is a power that has never been given to civilian juries in the history of the common law. But it can be only history which retains this unique power for the board in courts martial. Perhaps it is a throwback to when there were no civilian professional judges, but, as I said in opening in my remarks, we have advanced so far. The civilian judge advocate is so important to the system.

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Lord Tunnicliffe Portrait Lord Tunnicliffe (Lab)
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My Lords, as we begin Committee on this important legislation, I stress to all sides that we must use this opportunity to improve the lives of, and protections and support for, personnel and their families through legislative change.

Her Majesty’s Opposition stand firmly behind our brave service personnel and their families, and we strongly believe that the law should be on their side. That is why we support the principles behind the Bill and welcome the steps to create a legal duty to implement the principles of the covenant and the key elements of the Lyons review. But we all know that there are many, both in and outside the House, who believe that the Government could and should go further. Therefore, I repeat that our main priority will be to work with other parties to improve the legislation.

Our forces communities are themselves determined that the Bill should not be a missed opportunity, so the amendments tabled by Her Majesty’s Opposition and those we are supporting, we believe, are designed in good faith to reflect the cause of personnel, their families and the organisations which represent them.

The first group of amendments, which focuses on Clause 2 and Schedule 1, concerns the constitution of the court martial and implements recommendations from the Lyons review. These include fixing the size of court martial boards at three or six, and a move to qualified majority verdicts instead of the simple majority systems currently used.

The Bill’s Select Committee stated that the

“use of the simple majority verdict had been criticised by some, including … Jeff Blackett, and Liberty, who proposed that unanimous verdicts be sought in the first instance.”

The Government have subsequently tabled Amendments 1, 2 and 4, which they say enable the court martial to remain validly constituted if a three-member board loses a lay member—for instance, due to illness or the need to isolate. The Minister has said that she is making a small adjustment to future-proof the system of three-member boards to allow for the appointment of a four-member board for longer cases.

Why are these amendments suddenly needed? How often does the Minister think that a four-member board will be appointed? What consultation process has there been for this change? Is there a large enough pool of board members to support this change? When she says that four-person boards are for longer cases, what type of cases does she mean? Will it be just about time, or some other characteristics of the case?

It was also helpful to hear the argument of the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford, behind Amendment 3; I look forward to hearing the Minister’s reply to these points. With that, and with a careful reading of Hansard, we will be considering our position on this amendment.

Baroness Goldie Portrait Baroness Goldie (Con)
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First, I thank your Lordships for your contributions. I will start by responding to the noble Lord, Lord Tunnicliffe, who I think was principally concerned with the government amendments to which I spoke. Regarding the decision to introduce a flexibility to allow a three-member board to become a four-member board in order to keep operating, I cannot give him a list of statistics, but I can tell him that Covid brought into very sharp relief the potential fragility of the system if people sadly become infected with Covid or are required to isolate. That made it clear that we need to introduce some change to accommodate these extraordinary circumstances, which we may continue to encounter. None of us is clear when life as we once remember it may return, so I say to the noble Lord, Lord Tunnicliffe, that we regard this as a sensible introduction of a flexible measure to ensure, importantly, that justice continues to be done for victims and that they are not in the unenviable position of a case having to be dropped because the court martial is not properly constituted.

The noble Lord, Lord Tunnicliffe, inquires about what type of cases it is about and how often we expect a full-member board to sit. I suggest that the type of case is probably a matter for the court martial rules to determine. One would imagine that, in looking at the composition and constitution of a court martial, regard would be had to the type of offence being tried, the number of witnesses available and that an appropriate judgment would be made on that basis, but the court martial rules would be more specific about that aspect.

I turn to the amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford, supported by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd—I hope he finds my pronunciation semi-acceptable; I was tutored by the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford, on how to deal with it. I think the points made are important. I detected a fundamental difference of opinion between me as a government Minister within the MoD and the noble and learned Lord and the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford, about the philosophical or essential character of what we are dealing with in the service justice system. I thought the noble Lord, Lord Lancaster, eloquently touched on that.

We have to remember that life for a service community and all those within it is very different from life for those of us in a civilian community. The noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford, gave us an interesting analogy of the forthcoming rugby match between the All Blacks and Wales. The comparison that he attempted to draw was that the referee may consult the touch judges as to what has actually happened but the referee will ultimately make the decision. In response, I would say that the referee and the touch judges are not living in a close and mutually supportive community such as the Armed Forces community, where not only are they all living in close proximity to one another but in service they are mutually dependent on each other. The rugby players, the referee and the other officials are not dependent on each other for either disciplinary or operational effectiveness. There is a temptation to make that comparison but I do not find it completely analogous to what we are discussing within the Armed Forces.

The noble and learned Lord, Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd, said that sentencing is complex, and I do not think anyone would dispute that. Training is needed, and in court martial appeals you have the expertise of the judges. I would respond by saying that we do have expertise; the judge advocate has expertise, and sentencing guidance is available to all on the panel. As I indicated in my preliminary remarks when addressing Amendment 3, there is a great body of expertise and information available. Where we differ is on a fundamental point, a point that noble Lord, Lord Lancaster, made well when he said that there has to be an understanding within the service community about how a punishment or a penalty is to be appropriate to what has happened. That is in the wider context of what the offence, transgression or omission actually meant to the broader community. As I pointed out in my speech, there is a world of difference between a supermarket worker turning up late and a marine engineer being late for a nuclear submarine that is just about to leave port.

The concern was raised by the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford, that in a civilian court you can adjourn for sentencing. The Judge Advocate General can also adjourn the court martial to consider sentencing if the panel needs time to get further information on the defendant, and pre-sentencing reports are used in the court martial system.

I have endeavoured to address the points raised. I have a note here saying that apparently the noble Lord, Lord Tunnicliffe, asked who we had consulted in the court martial. We consulted the Judge Advocate General, the Service Prosecuting Authority and the single services.

I submit that the government amendments proceed from a sensible and widely understood base and that Amendment 3, in the names of the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford, and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd, is well-intended but inappropriate for incorporation within the service justice system.

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Baroness Bennett of Manor Castle Portrait Baroness Bennett of Manor Castle (GP)
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My Lords, I beg the Committee’s indulgence. This is my first time back in this Room, and I am afraid I got my body language wrong. I was hoping to come in before the noble Lord, Lord Coaker. Perhaps I may briefly speak in support of Amendment 5. The noble Lord, Lord Thomas, and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Thomas, as you would expect from legal people, were very carefully balanced, but I shall speak unashamedly in favour of the victims. The noble Lord, Lord Coaker, referred to the Times report about under-18s to which I was going to refer. I shall refer to another Times report from April, when 4,000 servicewomen and veterans came forward to speak about their concerns.

We know that there is a problem with prosecution of the crimes of rape, sexual assault and domestic violence in all areas, but it is obvious where we want to invest our effort. If we do so in the civilian courts, that is where the real speciality and ability will lie. I and others have framed this as an issue of violence against women and girls, but it is also worth thinking about male victims of domestic violence, rape and sexual assault, and how difficult it may be for them in that context.

This will be my only intervention in Committee. Your Lordships’ House is not taking recess for the COP 26 climate talks, although we recently took recess for the party conferences, which happen twice a year. I apologise that I will not be able to take a full part, but I hope to come back on Report.

Finally, there was a great deal of discussion of this at Second Reading, and I was expecting more discussion of Amendment 5 today, because this is something that we really need to see change and progress on.

Baroness Goldie Portrait Baroness Goldie (Con)
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First, I want to thank your Lordships for what has been a profound and stimulating discussion. I am conscious that much of the debate has centred on fairly technical legal issues, not least in particular reference to the criminal legal system, both for civilian and service justice systems. I shall do my best to address the issues raised.

By way of preface, in response to points notably made by the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, and the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford, and echoed by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd, we all want a service justice system that is fit for purpose. I think we are all absolutely united in seeking that objective, and that is exactly what the Bill aims to achieve. That offers me the opportunity to say to your Lordships that much had to move at pace, involving a considerable volume of material. I apologise for that, as I know that you have all been deluged, first with the publication of the Henriques report and then the tabling of government amendments to create the defence serious crime unit.

While I think that these are regarded as very positive developments, I understand that it has put pressure on everybody to try properly to assimilate and understand the report and amendments. I took the view that the amendments did not make a lot of sense without the report, and I had to navigate my way through a fairly tangled jungle of clearances to make sure that we could get both things out into the public domain. I felt that it was important that we did that; it seemed to me that the amendments the Government were then able to table to the Bill in respect of the defence serious crime unit provided reassurance and perhaps answered some of the questions raised today. I think that gives a clear signal of intent about the desire to ensure, as a number of noble Lords have observed this afternoon, that the criminal justice system is absolutely fit for purpose and as good as it can be.

I will now address the amendments in this group. I shall do that beginning with Amendment 5 and then move on to Amendment 6—and then I shall speak to the intention expressed by the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Craig of Radley, to oppose Clause 7. Finally, I shall speak to Amendment 7 in the name of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Morris of Aberavon.

The noble Lord, Lord Coaker, said that there has to be confidence in the justice system, and I totally agree with that. He rightly referred to recent statistics, which are deeply troubling—and I make no pretence about that. As he probably knows, there has been ongoing work in the MoD over the last decade to try to address cultures and behaviour, to provide people who have been treated wrongly—whether it is the victims of unacceptable behaviour or of a criminal offence—with the confidence to come forward, and to try to reassure those within our Armed Forces, not least our women, that this is a good and safe place to be. That has been a Herculean struggle; it has been a huge challenge, and I am not going to pretend otherwise. What I can say is that there has been systematic progress of very good work.

The noble Lord, Lord Coaker, referred to the Commons Select Committee report, in which the MoD very readily engaged—and the Secretary of State took the courageous and absolutely correct decision to allow serving women to appear as witnesses before the committee. I thought he was absolutely right to do that, as it is the only way in which we can get evidence out into the open. Very troubling evidence was heard, and some of it was utterly appalling. What I drew comfort from was that, to the end, a very high percentage of the women who gave evidence said that they would recommend a career in the Armed Forces to other women. I felt encouraged by that. There was recognition that, while unacceptable practices and attitudes have existed in the past, there is a discernible recognition that the direction has changed.

In relation to the stats to which the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, referred, they are troubling, but they do tell us that people are now coming forward. One problem that we had was that people would not come forward; they did not have the confidence to do that—and that to me strikes at the very heart of the probity and integrity of, and the confidence that people should rightly have in, the system.

We have been and are reforming the service complaints system. A huge amount of work has been done among the single services to that end.

Baroness Brinton Portrait Baroness Brinton (LD) [V]
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I seem to have lost the sound.

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Baroness Goldie Portrait Baroness Goldie (Con)
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I shall leave that to those who are much more technically gifted than I am to resolve.

I say to the Committee that I absolutely hear the concerns expressed and am not giving some cosmetic response to them. These concerns are being addressed, and in many respects have been addressed. I hope that we are going to see that a much healthier climate exists within the Armed Forces.

I turn specifically to Amendment 5, which seeks to ensure that the most serious crimes as listed in the amendment are tried in the civilian courts when committed by a service person in the UK, unless, by reason of specific naval or military complexity involving the service, the Attorney-General has specifically consented for such crimes to be tried at court martial. I realise that there is much interest in the Government’s decision not to follow recommendation 1 in the Service Justice System Review. While we accept the need to improve the decision-making processes in relation to concurrent jurisdiction, we do not believe that the introduction of an Attorney-General consent function is the best way to achieve it.

By way of background, I would like to be clear that the primary reason the service justice system was established was, as we discussed earlier today, to support operational effectiveness and maintain the service discipline of our Armed Forces. The recently published review by Sir Richard Henriques and the service justice system review by His Honour Shaun Lyons were unanimous in accepting that premise; they strongly supported the continued existence of the service justice system. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd, referred to the importance of public confidence in that system. I entirely agree: it is vital that the public and victims, and service personnel, have confidence that this system can act adequately in respect of what it is asked to do.

Sir Richard Henriques stated in his review, published just last week, that he agreed with the Government’s decision to retain unqualified concurrent jurisdiction for murder, manslaughter and rape. Sir Richard, a retired High Court judge, found the service justice system to be fair, robust and capable of dealing with all offending. This endorsement of capability echoes the conclusion of the process audit conducted as part of the Lyons review, which previously found that the service police have the necessary training, skills and experience to investigate any crime. The service police, prosecutors and judiciary are trained, skilled and experienced, while independent prosecutors can be trusted to make appropriate decisions on jurisdiction.

I think it was the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford, who raised the issue of statistics on conviction rates. It is not possible to draw a meaningful statistical or data comparison between the service justice system and the civilian system, because the small database in the service justice system means that variances have a disproportionate effect, which I think everyone can understand. That can lead, frankly, to false conclusions.

We are confident that the service justice system provides an effective and fair system of justice for our Armed Forces. What we recognise, as in the very point raised by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd, is the public confidence issue and that it can be maintained only if the service justice system not only has but can be shown to have the capability to deal with all offending fairly, efficiently and in a manner which respects and upholds the needs of victims. That is why we continue to implement the recommendations of the Service Justice System Review, some of which are measures in the Bill. This will ensure that the service justice system is more effective and efficient and provides a better service to those who use it.

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Lord Morris of Aberavon Portrait Lord Morris of Aberavon (Lab)
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On the point about circuit judges being allowed to try these very serious offences, will they be of a similar calibre to those judges who are licensed to try rape and murder cases? Maybe the Minister will not be able to deal with this now, but perhaps she could later.

Baroness Goldie Portrait Baroness Goldie (Con)
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The noble and learned Lord makes a good point. Obviously at the heart of this is making the service justice system as good as it can be. Clearly I cannot give a specific undertaking as to what criteria would be adopted in making such a selection, but I hear what he says and it will be given careful consideration. I cannot be more specific about that just now.

I was saying that I hope the noble and learned Lord is reassured that we have considered this matter in detail, having regard, as we have been discussing this afternoon, to the military and operational environment in which our armed services function. In these circumstances, I hope he will not press the amendment.

I omitted to answer a specific question posed by the noble and learned Lord about the most junior member of the court martial voting first. I am informed that the most junior member of the court martial does vote first.

Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd Portrait Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd (CB)
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I want to ask about two matters. First, I raised the point about judicial review but I also raised the serious issue of concurrent jurisdiction relating to murder committed overseas, and I gave the references. I would be grateful if the Minister could reply. I would not expect her to do that now but I would be grateful if she could write and deal with these two rather important points.

Baroness Goldie Portrait Baroness Goldie (Con)
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I certainly undertake to look at Hansard and endeavour to frame a response to the noble and learned Lord.

Lord Thomas of Gresford Portrait Lord Thomas of Gresford (LD)
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I am grateful to the Minister for the very careful and thorough way she addressed these amendments. I feel that she slightly misrepresents the nature of Amendment 5. I am not suggesting that in every case the Attorney-General be woken up by the telephone in the middle of the night and come to a decision in her pyjamas. That is not quite what I have in mind, which is that serious offences such as murder, manslaughter and domestic violence should normally be tried in the civil court. There is no question of protocols: that is the normal way you go about it. But in the event that there is some very specific naval or military complexity involved—I had in mind, for example, the working of a gun in a tank that causes another person to be killed on Salisbury Plain—one could imagine that there might be a case for the authorities to say, “This has a bit of a military tang to it. Therefore, we will see whether the Attorney-General will agree, in this very unusual case, that a trial by court martial would be more appropriate, because the panel might be more used to that sort of thing.”

We are talking about murder, rape, manslaughter, domestic violence, and child abuse by serving soldiers or servicepeople in the United Kingdom. It is important that that should be realised. Normally they would be tried in the Crown Court by a jury in the ordinary way.

The noble Lord, Lord Coaker, the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd, raised the issue of confidence. That is what this is about: public confidence in the system of service courts. That is what is needed. I repeat what the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, said: people will not come forward. If you have a situation where servicepeople who complain of rape find that only 16% of the complaints result in convictions, that means that 84% of victims will have gone to the court, given their evidence and found that the defendant has been found not guilty of the offence against them. Does that give confidence, not just to the victim but to the family? They will leave the service; this is the sort of situation in which a person says, “I’m not going to stand for this. I’ve gone before a court martial; they don’t believe me.”

This is an extensive problem in the United States. Four or five years ago I gave evidence to a congressional committee in Washington on what the British system was because they were considering sexual assaults in the military over there. I was in the unlikely company of Senator Gillibrand of New York, a Democrat, and Senator Ted Cruz of Texas, who is known to have certain right-wing views. They were all on the same side. Nothing happened. President Biden has within the first six months of his Administration set up a commission to deal with sexual offences in the military. This is a very important point and it is very necessary that we deal with it properly.

The noble and learned Lord, Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd, pointed out to the judicial review that took place in the Blackman case that our protocols for overseas jurisdiction have not worked. His proposal that parliamentary approval of any protocol should underpin that protocol is entirely correct, sensible, right and common sense, because it would prevent the bringing of judicial review against whoever is in charge—the Director of Service Prosecutions or the director of prosecutions in another jurisdiction—as the protocol would have parliamentary approval.

I support the noble and learned Lord in that. The fact that it does not exist at the moment is neither here nor there; what we are concerned about is having something that does not give rise to parades and demonstrations in Parliament Square, as happened in the Blackman case. That is an important point, and I am sure that the noble and learned Lord, Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd, will pursue it.

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We do not have this general commitment, as individuals and administrators, let alone as it is in this Bill, which is open enough to give the commitment that the covenant promised to give. I plead with the Minister to ensure that, whatever comes with this, we allow it to be modified as we all learn more about how to be effective, especially in the mental welfare of our veterans.
Baroness Goldie Portrait Baroness Goldie (Con)
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Once again, I thank noble Lords for a stimulating and interesting debate. I appreciate the contributions, to which I have listened with care.

To set a context for my response to the amendments, I would just observe that I clearly and firmly feel that the Bill, by including the reference to the covenant and imputing to it a statutory effect, is taking us a very significant step forward. I understand the frustration and impatience on the part of some that the pace is not moving more quickly and that the reach of the definition in Clause 8 is not being broadened. However, in that context, I shall try to address the points that have been raised, all of them very worthy; in no way would I wish to dismiss them.

The amendments tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, and the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, would widen the scope of the new covenant duty to the areas of employment, pensions, compensation, social care, criminal justice and immigration. In considering how to take forward our commitment to further strengthen the covenant in law, which we have discharged in the Bill, we looked first at what the covenant has already achieved. The considerable number of successful initiatives across many different policy areas that we have seen through the Armed Forces covenant to date shows how the careful use of legislation could provide a firm basis and the flexibility for a much wider range of work to develop.

We bore this model in mind in the development of the new covenant duty to ensure it can provide a secure framework that allows scope for innovation, change and future growth. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, that this is about our service personnel, our veterans and their families. In approaching this, we recognised that delivery of the functions relative to healthcare, education and housing in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland would benefit from what I might describe as a more uniform awareness of the covenant and perhaps a more universal application of the principles that underpin it.

This has been difficult to encompass, as I think your Lordships will understand, for obvious reasons. The first thing I want to do is to give thanks to the devolved Administrations. They have been co-operative and helpful. I simply explain to your Lordships that even progressing the statutory import with the three areas of healthcare, education and housing has not been straightforward. It has been complex. Your Lordships will understand why. We have a range of delivery mechanisms across the United Kingdom. We have different responsible elements. We have different responsible Governments. We are trying to increase awareness across the UK and achieve a more universal recognition of the principles of the covenant in delivering services.

The question was asked: why healthcare, education and housing? The new duty is designed initially to focus on these three core functions. That not only reflects those already in statute—where there has to be obligation —but also addresses the most commonly raised issues affecting the day-to-day lives of our Armed Forces community. I think it was the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, who asked how we know that. It is a perfectly legitimate question. There has not been a specific consultation on that but, as the noble Lord will be aware, the covenant now embraces the MoD and the Office for Veterans’ Affairs. There are our partnerships and discussions with charitable entities, not least the Royal British Legion. We also discuss regularly with families, federations, local government and devolved Administrations what the needs imposed by the covenant are. I can say to the noble Lord that there has been significant experience of dealing with issues coming through to the covenant team in the MoD and their subsequent discussions with the other parties to which I have referred.

The three entities, healthcare, housing and education, seemed to be the most prominent features in that work. That is why we have focused on them. Importantly, the Bill provides for further consideration of additional areas of concern and it grants the Government powers to make any changes as a consequence. In this way, the covenant duty can effectively adapt to the needs of the Armed Forces community in the future. Future areas of concern will be addressed as and when they arise through the powers in the Bill that allow the Government to widen the scope of the covenant duty, if needed, through secondary legislation. We are working with key stakeholders to establish an open and transparent process by which the scope of the legislation can successfully adapt to address the changing needs of the Armed Forces community.

We have to consider the practicalities of extending the covenant duty to further policy areas. My noble friend Lord Lancaster alluded to this. Indeed, to achieve the extension sought by this amendment would require the amendment to specify which functions would be relevant, in the way that we have defined a relevant health, housing and education function. The list of specified persons and bodies subject to the duty would also need to be amended to include the bodies which exercise the relevant functions envisaged by the amendment. That would require extensive consultation with stakeholders and the devolved Administrations to identify the appropriate bodies and functions to bring into scope.

I suggest that a perhaps wiser and better way forward at the moment lies in first working through and resolving any practical implications arising as the new covenant duty is implemented. That will give us a good indication of where amendments may be required to better meet the changing needs of our Armed Forces community in future.

The noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, and the noble Viscount, Lord Brookeborough, also raised the important issue of mental health, and were absolutely right to do so. I was asked for some detail. We are committed to enhancing health and well-being for veterans; I highlight the recent launch of Op Courage, which simplifies access to NHS England veteran services. That is among excellent work being done within the serving Armed Forces in relation to mental health, where there is far swifter and better recognition of persons who may need support and a much swifter reference point to direct those individuals to where they can get that support.

I return to the amendment. By retaining the flexible nature of the legislation, the Government hope to establish a firm legal foundation for the covenant while avoiding any unnecessary administrative burden. The new duty builds on the existing widespread commitment to the covenant, thereby contributing to a further strengthening of covenant delivery across the UK. I think that it was the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, who specifically asked about the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee and its recommendations. I am seriously considering its report and will undertake to update the Committee on Report.

I have attempted to explain in relation to Amendments 8, 10 and 13 why the Government have a difficulty. I hope that my remarks have been received sympathetically and have not been regarded as obstructive, but I invite the noble Lord and the noble Baroness not to press their amendments.

Amendment 64 in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, supported by the noble Baroness, Lady Smith, refers to civilians subject to service discipline; these are civilians who come within the jurisdiction of the service justice system and include groups such as families of service personnel living on bases overseas, Crown servants working with the Armed Forces overseas, or civilians on board military ships or aircraft. I understand that the amendment was actually intended to apply to locally employed staff in Afghanistan but I am required to address the amendment as scripted, although I will come to Afghanistan more specifically.

The Armed Forces covenant was designed with the Armed Forces past and present, and the families who support them, at its heart. That was in recognition of the unique obligations of and sacrifices that they make on behalf of the country in serving us. In practical terms, the covenant is focused on ensuring that the Armed Forces community gets a fair deal when accessing public goods and services in comparison with their civilian counterparts, with the aim of mitigating any disadvantage that they may face as a result of service life, and to allow special provision to be considered for those who have sacrificed the most.

The covenant is therefore directed primarily within the UK, and I do not think that it would be helpful or appropriate to include in its scope locally employed staff working for the United Kingdom Government, whether in Afghanistan or any other country. Those individuals are employed as civilians under their own bespoke terms and conditions of service within their own countries. However, importantly, the Government will take further action where necessary. In Afghanistan, we completed Operation Pitting, the biggest and fastest emergency evacuation in recent history, bringing around 15,000 people to safety in the UK and helping 36 other countries airlift their own nationals.

The whole UK Government are engaged, via Operation Warm Welcome, in ensuring that those Afghan nationals relocated to the UK are provided with the best possible support and start to life in the UK that we can give them. That comes from a variety of sources; it comes from across government departments and may involve the devolved Administrations or come from other public agencies. I say to the noble Baroness, Lady Smith, that it includes assisting these Afghan nationals into work. I am informed that some ARAP people are now working in the UK as we speak.

We have made it clear that our commitment to Afghanistan and those who supported our mission there continues. Our message to those people to whom we have made a commitment is clear: that commitment to you is enduring. However, the covenant is not the appropriate mechanism to accomplish that support and help.

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Lord Craig of Radley Portrait Lord Craig of Radley (CB)
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My Lords, before the Minister sits down, I refer her back to her earlier comments about the addition of functions, and her feeling that this would be an overload on the functioning of the covenant system. Perhaps these functions could still go into the Bill but be brought into force through statutory instrument at various stages in future. It seems to me that the opportunity to get them into the Bill is one that we should not miss.

Baroness Goldie Portrait Baroness Goldie (Con)
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As the noble and gallant Lord knows, I have the greatest respect for him. I have no doubt whatever about his commitment to and interest in these issues. I have tried to indicate that even to get to where we have reached has been challenging and difficult. Notwithstanding all that, it has got us to a good place. It is far better to put our toe in the water, make progress in these three significant areas—and they are significant—and assess how that is working in practice. Then we can make an informed decision about whether expansion is needed and, if so, where. Is it proving a source of concern to our Armed Forces personnel and veterans? That further work will be important to establish, first, whether a need is there and, secondly, how to meet it. As I said earlier to him, that requires extensive consultation with a large variety of bodies, not least the devolved Administrations.

I should not want to give people boundless hope that we could deliver things that, although in an Act of Parliament, could prove problematic to deliver. That is my major concern. We should manage expectation. Quite honestly, we should allow this to unfold and see how it runs. We are under an obligation in the covenant to report every year on how matters are progressing, and we have the facility in the Bill to take forward expansion if that need is identified. I suggest to the noble and gallant Lord that this is a more prudent and sensible way in which to proceed.

Viscount Brookeborough Portrait Viscount Brookeborough (CB)
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Before the Minister sits down, I thank her for everything she said and for being so open-minded. However, she said that a veteran—or a veteran’s family—who goes to get help and is refused will then go to an ombudsman or through a complaints system. I think she is a bit optimistic, because veterans who have given their hearts to the country in Afghanistan and who have fought for their lives should not have to fight for this. I would rather that she had suggested a way of monitoring from the other end the refusals of help and the circumstances. My experience is that, even without mental welfare problems, veterans have given their lives to this country fighting, and they are reluctant to go public or to drag others in. We are talking about initiatives from up the chain of authority, which is monitoring and picking them up, rather than relying on our veterans to fight once again.

Baroness Goldie Portrait Baroness Goldie (Con)
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I can understand why the noble Viscount articulates that point. If we draw a distinction between active service personnel and veterans, I imagine that our active personnel in service at the moment are more likely to be interested in health and education. I think that our veterans are more likely to be interested in health and housing, for obvious reasons.

One of the difficulties with the noble Viscount’s suggestion is that we do not know, and we have no reason to know, whether anyone is encountering problems. To take the example from the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, we do not know whether a parent has a problem with getting her child adequately placed in a suitable facility until that person comes and tells us that there is a problem. We are trying to ensure that they have a much simpler route to finding the solution they need because of what the Bill is doing. That is why the obligation is being placed on the delivery end. The individuals seeking the particular facility or the help actually want to go to the provider and say, “This is what I need, please can I have it?”

In the disappointing eventuality that help is not forthcoming, if that person is in service then there will certainly be help available within the armed services to support them. If the person is a veteran, there is a plentitude of help from charitable agencies, some of the Armed Forces charities and other support charities. If there were a delay or obstruction in the necessary service being received by the person who needs it, I hope that that would be very quickly picked up so that the person knows they could go to the provider and say, “You’re failing me. You’re falling down on the job. That is not good enough.” It is very difficult for anyone else to know whether that person, first, wants a service, and, secondly, has been disappointed or obstructed in trying to get it.

Lord Coaker Portrait Lord Coaker (Lab)
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I thank the Minister for a very constructive reply. While she was responding, I looked again at the power to add bodies and functions in the Bill. To take up the point from the noble Lord, Lord Lancaster, and some of what the Minister was saying, it seemed that she was not saying that there was never going to be a need for bodies that need to “have due regard to” to be added to the covenant, but the issue is the practicality of it. From looking at the Bill, I wonder whether an appropriate amendment could come forward on Report to put a bit of meat on the bones, rather than the Bill just saying that there is a power to add bodies and functions. If I have not mistaken what the noble Lord said, maybe there could be some kind of timeframe and greater certainty, but perhaps we will be able to look at that in response to what the Minister said and the suggestion that he made. I thought that was very helpful.

I thank the noble Viscount, Lord Brookeborough, for his contribution and the point he made about what “due regard” means. I hope we do not have a judicial review about that. Again, I am not a lawyer, but I know what “due regard” means. I am sure you can argue it, but I think we all know what it is supposed to mean. I will leave that to the lawyers.

I also apologise to the noble Baronesses, Lady Brinton and Lady Smith, and to the noble Lord, Lord Lancaster. As many of us will have done, I read lots of documents and Bills related to this over the weekend. I did not properly read Amendment 64, which raises a really important issue that the Minister, to be fair, sought to answer. I will read this out, because people read our affairs and they will not know what we are talking about when they read it; I apologise, but it is important. The noble Baronesses suggest that the covenant

“should be extended to cover civilians subject to service discipline who have been employed by the UK Armed Forces while on deployment.”

I think a lot of people would think that was probably already the case. The Minister, to be fair, said that of course the Government have due regard to people who had done that, because they have a duty of care, responsibility and so on, but the amendment seeks to put that into primary legislation. It is certainly something worthy of further thought and consideration. I appreciate that the Minister sought to answer this, but it is a particularly important amendment. I think that in bringing it forward, the noble Baronesses, Lady Brinton and Lady Smith, have done the Committee a service. That is what I have to say about the attention to detail.

With those brief comments on what I thought was, again, a helpful debate, I beg leave to withdraw my amendment.

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Baroness Smith of Newnham Portrait Baroness Smith of Newnham (LD)
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My Lords, I shall be extremely brief because we have had contributions from all parts of the House—Labour, Liberal Democrat, Conservative and Cross Bench—supporting this amendment. I should be very grateful if the Minister answered the question I asked at Second Reading, which was:

“What assessment have the Government made of creating a duty for themselves to pay due regard to the Armed Forces covenant?”—[Official Report, 7/9/21; col. 766.]


Has the Minister had a chance to think about that so far? If not, would the Government like to think about it ahead of Report?

Baroness Goldie Portrait Baroness Goldie (Con)
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My Lords, again this has been a fascinating debate and I arise with trepidation when one of the contributors is my noble and learned friend Lord Mackay of Clashfern. A number of significant points have been made and I will try to address them as best I can.

Amendment 9, as has been discussed, centres on the desire to make central government departments subject to the duty of due regard. Again, to provide some context, we designed the new duty to initially focus on the three core functions of healthcare, education and housing because, as I indicated in debating a previous amendment, these are prominent among the concerns of both Armed Forces personnel in service and veterans. They not only reflect issues that are already in statute, but also address the most commonly raised issues affecting the day-to-day lives of our Armed Forces community.

As our Armed Forces are a very mobile population, frequently moving from local authority to local authority, it is often the variation of service delivery across local areas that can inadvertently cause disadvantage. Consequently, it is vital that those delivering these key public services are sufficiently aware of the challenges faced by the Armed Forces community when accessing these services. It is right that we look at this area first.

We also took into account that central Government are responsible for the overall strategic direction for national policy and for delivering on the manifesto on which they were elected. However, the responsibility for the delivery of these functions and their impact rests at more local level. I would argue that Governments are answerable, ultimately, to an electorate when a general election comes round and, before that point, they are most certainly accountable to Parliament, and that is an accountability no Government would ever take lightly.

Senior engagement regularly takes place between the MoD, the Cabinet Office, other government departments and the devolved Administrations to drive an increase in covenant awareness across national healthcare, and housing and education policy to improve the lives of the Armed Forces community. Additionally, the Government’s delivery of the covenant is, as we all know, subject to parliamentary scrutiny through the existing annual legal obligation to report progress delivering the covenant across the UK to Parliament. This is in addition to regular parliamentary scrutiny through other channels, such as Parliamentary Questions, reviews by the House of Commons Defence Select Committee and debates called by Members with a particular interest in certain aspects of defence.

My noble and learned friend Lord Mackay of Clashfern raised in support of his argument the certainly interesting event that occurred during the first Gulf War. As he explained, in anticipation that troops might be exposed to gas issues and had to be protected against that, protective equipment was handed out. As he indicated, people then suffered from a neurological type of disease on their return and tried to identify where it had come from. As my noble and learned friend said, they had not actually been exposed to any toxic gas, so the suspicion was that it was from the protective equipment. He adduced this instance in support of his argument that central government should be brought in.

I have two observations on that analogy. The emphasis on what the Government are doing in this Bill and what we have endeavoured to make possible is, first, to give the covenant a statutory impact, which is innovatory and very important; and secondly, to try to make it much clearer across the United Kingdom, for the whole panoply of services being delivered in respect of housing, education and health, how there needs to be greater awareness and understanding, and a much more universal approach to delivering these services to personnel who may be in service in the Armed Forces or veterans. That is about ensuring that, when they need services, they can access them.

The question that my noble and learned friend poses about the instance that he describes, with the reference to the first Gulf War and the particular situation that developed there, is a legitimate illustration to give the Committee. I accept that that was a serious situation, but the question running through my mind as he spoke was that surely the important thing there was remedy. This is not about people needing something, not being able to get it, and making sure that the providers of that service are much more alert to providing it; it is about a situation where, under orders of government, Armed Forces were sent abroad and then apparently—I do not know the facts myself—experienced neurological disorders when they returned, and considered that was attributable to protective equipment that was defective, with which they had been issued.

That is not a complete analogy with what the Bill is trying to do. If you ask what solution was needed, the answer, quite simply, is that those people who suffered in that way needed to be given advice and helped, and needed to find a legal solution, if that was what was available to them. I do not know what happened to that particular group of people, but I imagine that the first thing they needed was medical support, which I hope that they got. I imagine that, within the Armed Forces, there would be a concern about the manifestation of that situation and a desire to support, but the bottom line is that, if the culpable body were the Government and the MoD, if these individuals sought and obtained good legal advice the MoD would find itself, quite properly, the subject of litigation. That is how the solution would be sought. If the court was satisfied that the negligence alleged by those who had suffered was proved, remedies would follow.

I say with the greatest respect to my noble and learned friend Lord Mackay that I absolutely understand what he is driving at, but I still do not see a complete dovetail analogy with what we seek to deliver through the Bill. The situation that my noble and learned friend outlines is serious. It may very well happen in future, but the MoD is very vigilant and conscious that if it falls down on its duty to its own people it will expect to be sued—and it is. Not only is it sued and expected to provide redress but support is given to people who find themselves in that grouping. Including central government in the Bill is unnecessary. The Government are already subject to a legal obligation to report on the delivery of the covenant, and there are many and sufficient levels of public scrutiny.

Let us bear in mind that the Bill is about trying to improve the levels of awareness across the United Kingdom and a better and more universal provision of essential services for those members of our Armed Forces and veterans who need them. My problem with the amendment is that, were it accepted, we would create an obligation on central government. We cannot impose a comparable obligation on devolved Governments because that would be incompetent and not within the scope of the Bill. We would then once again create disparity rather than universality across the United Kingdom. We would have central government bound in one way but not devolved Administrations. That is not a desirable outcome.

I am not at all immune to the importance of the arguments advanced by my noble and learned friend. He makes an important point. The situation to which he refers was grave. I suggest that that can be addressed by existing means. It does not need the inclusion of central government in the covenant, which, indeed, would not necessarily have prevented the problem. The question is: how do we provide a remedy to people who have been affected by such an unfortunate development? My response would be: by providing support. Advice is available—legal advice if that is required—for people to follow through the remedies they seek. It is not necessary to bring central government into the legislation. It is much more important that we focus on what we are trying to do as a first step, make sure we get that working properly and then, as we have been discussing, consider whether there is a need to expand that provision of duty.

I am unable to agree that this amendment is either necessary or would help the situation; it could create a difficulty where one does not currently exist. In those circumstances, I ask the noble Lord to withdraw his amendment.

Lord Mackay of Clashfern Portrait Lord Mackay of Clashfern (Con)
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My Lords, I never mentioned negligence. I am not suggesting for a minute that there was necessarily any negligence. The Armed Forces put in requirements for the people who were taking part for protection against what they thought might come. That was a perfectly reasonable thing to do. Some of them took the treatment. The question was: what was the result of that? That was a question for the Secretary of State. It was him who had to look into that; it was a national question. It had nothing whatever to do with negligence or some other basis of claim. The claim was because the Government had approved a covenant, which I said should protect them in respect of their work in the Armed Forces and after they had left. That is what this was—nothing more, nothing less.

I am sorry to interrupt, but I have to make it clear that there is no suggestion in my argument that there was any negligence or any sort of enforcement available at the time. This is a new remedy, and it should be given.

Baroness Goldie Portrait Baroness Goldie (Con)
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I am very grateful to my noble and learned friend for expanding that further. I understand the point he is trying to make. I was making a distinction between areas where, if the MoD was culpable, it could expect a claim of negligence. My noble and learned friend outlines a situation where something happens and maybe no negligence can be established but people suffer. In that event, we would want to do two things: we would want to find out what happened and provide help to those affected. But is it not the case that the covenant already provides a route for question and accountability of the Government to Parliament? The annual report could be presented and Parliament could say, “We absolutely dismiss that report”, and ask why it has made no reference to the situation of the type my noble and learned friend referred to. I argue that there is accountability and, separate issues flowing from that, our support and solutions for those affected, but these could be provided in other ways. They do not require a covenant to secure that.

Baroness Smith of Newnham Portrait Baroness Smith of Newnham (LD)
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My Lords, the noble Baroness’s thinking has not necessary moved on very much from Second Reading, when she said

“I would say that government is held to account by Parliament and the purpose of the covenant duty is to raise awareness among providers of these public services”.—[Official Report, 7/9/21; col. 770.]

Parliament can and should hold the Government to account but, if the legal duty to have due regard is put only on local authorities and certain other providers and not on the Government, yes, we can ask questions but we cannot actually hold the Government legally accountable. The points the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay of Clashfern, made are surely right: if we want to think about aspects that go beyond the duties to local authorities, that duty needs to put on to central government, not just local government.

The Minister suggested there might be a problem that we as Parliament or Her Majesty’s Government cannot put duties on the devolved Administrations. Surely that is precisely because defence is a reserved matter so, if we are putting a duty on to anybody, apart from local authorities and local health authorities, it ought to be on to central government, not on to the Governments of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

Baroness Goldie Portrait Baroness Goldie (Con)
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With the greatest respect, that might seem a tempting analysis of the situation, but the bottom line is that an inequity and disparity would be immediately introduced in the United Kingdom, because a Government would be bound and other devolved Governments would not be. That is profoundly undesirable.

Lord Coaker Portrait Lord Coaker (Lab)
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I thank the Minister for her reply. She is in a bit of trouble on this one. Logically, I do not think that some of what she said holds together. In her answer to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay, she clearly talked about negligence, people being sued and things like that, whereas what the noble and learned Lord talked about, and the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Craig, talked about very movingly from his own experience, is that we are seeking to require central government to have due regard to the covenant. Placing that obligation on central government in the same way as we are placing it on local authorities and other bodies is consistent with the principle that we are seeking to drop adopt through this legislation. This is not about moving into an area where a Government are negligent.

All I would say to the Minister is that we will have to come back to this on Report. I wonder whether she could reflect again on the discussions that have taken place in Committee to see whether there might be a way forward for us all. With that, I seek the leave of the Committee to withdraw the amendment.

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Baroness Smith of Newnham Portrait Baroness Smith of Newnham (LD)
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I have nothing to add.

Baroness Goldie Portrait Baroness Goldie (Con)
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I thank my noble friend for tabling this amendment, and I understand his motivation for doing so. I want to develop this a little further because he has raised some interesting arguments. He has described how the amendment seeks to give the Secretary of State for Defence the power to amend the scope of the Veterans Advisory and Pensions Committees’ statutory functions by regulations in the future.

My noble friend has described extensively what the VAPCs do across the UK. They are established under the Social Security Act 1989, with their functions set out in the War Pensions Committees Regulations 2000. Indeed, they used to be known as War Pensions Committees and their original role was expressly to raise awareness of the War Pension Scheme and latterly, the Armed Forces Compensation Scheme, and to make representations to the MoD on behalf of recipients. For that reason, the enabling Act for the VAPCs, the Social Security Act, sets out that their statutory functions are limited to the cohort of veterans and their families who are claiming for or in receipt of one of the two compensation schemes. It is that limitation that my noble friend’s amendment seeks to remedy.

In practice, as my noble friend knows—he alluded to this—members of the VAPCs have for many years performed activities that go above and beyond that scope. For example, many members have taken on a role promoting the Armed Forces covenant locally to all those who might have an interest in it. They have done that on a non-statutory basis and there have been no substantive issues with them doing so. I therefore suggest that in this respect my noble friend’s amendment is not necessary to achieve the outcome that he seeks.

However, there is a desire on all sides for greater clarity on the role that VAPCs have. My honourable friend the Minister for Defence People and Veterans joined a conference with the VAPCs yesterday and confirmed that he had signed off on a new set of terms of reference agreed by both the VAPC chairs and officials in the MoD and the Office for Veterans’ Affairs. The terms set out two new specific principles: first, to set out the activities that members of VAPCs as individuals and as members of informal regional groups are asked to carry out relating to all veterans and their families and, secondly, to provide direction relating to their performance for an initial period of 12 months beginning from 26 October, in order that we give the chairs a sensible period of time to adopt the new terms of reference and show how they can deliver against them. Following that initial 12-month period, the Minister for Defence People and Veterans will review the terms of reference and performance against the activities set out and will then make a determination on the next steps.

I say to my noble friend that the Government have a clear way forward over the next 12 months that has been agreed with the VAPCs themselves. We want to give them the chance to perform under the new terms of reference before we take any decisions about their longer-term future. We want to use the next 12 months to gather the evidence that we need to take an informed decision.

That is why I feel that my noble friend’s amendment is premature at this stage. To pass it now would put the cart before the horse. It would give the Secretary of State a power that we do not yet know if he would need or use. It would pre-empt the outcome of our work over the next 12 months and would imply that a change to the VAPCs’ statutory role was required when we have not yet actually come to any decision about that. It would provide only for a specific and rather limited adjustment to their statutory role when we might instead wish to consider more fundamental changes.

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Moved by
16: Clause 9, page 19, line 6, leave out paragraph (a) and insert—
“(a) omit “(a “full-time service commitment”)”;”Member’s explanatory statement
This is one of several amendments in the name of Baroness Goldie which would clarify the effect of provision made by Clause 9 about commitments under section 24 of the Reserve Forces Act 1996.
Baroness Goldie Portrait Baroness Goldie (Con)
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My Lords, group six comprises Amendments 16 to 37 inclusive. In total, these relate to a minor, technical amendment to Clause 9, which introduces important changes to Section 24 of the Reserve Forces Act 1996 to enable our reserve personnel to do more and for defence to offer them more. The changes we are making to Section 24 will in future enable reservists to undertake periods of full-time and part-time service, or a combination of both under one continuous commitment.

On reflection, we feel it more appropriate to refer to our new continuous service commitment using neutral terms, such as “a Section 24 commitment”. This will avoid any suggestion that reservists are in continuous service only in certain circumstances. Reservists are serving members of the Armed Forces during their entire term of service, not just when they are on duty or in training. It is a purely technical amendment and I can confirm that, importantly, it will have no impact on how the new measures we are introducing under Clause 9 will operate. It will allow our Reserve personnel to do more and enable the Ministry of Defence to make better use of their knowledge, skills and experience, but avoid any possible confusion as to nomenclature and meaning. I beg to move.

Lord Tunnicliffe Portrait Lord Tunnicliffe (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I accept the Minister’s assurance that this is a wholly technical amendment. If my assistants find that not to be true, I shall return to it ferociously on Report. But assuming that is the case, I am content with the amendment. I make the point that the next group goes into a fundamental area, and I would greatly object to any attempt to move into that group tonight.

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Moved by
17: Clause 9, page 19, line 18, leave out “continuous service commitment” and insert “commitment under this section”
Member’s explanatory statement
This is one of several amendments in the name of Baroness Goldie which would clarify the effect of provision made by Clause 9 about commitments under section 24 of the Reserve Forces Act 1996.
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Moved by
25: Schedule 2, page 42, line 9, leave out “continuous service” and insert “section 24”
Member’s explanatory statement
This is one of several amendments in the name of Baroness Goldie which would clarify the effect of provision in Clause 9 about commitments under section 24 of the Reserve Forces Act 1996.

Armed Forces Bill Debate

Full Debate: Read Full Debate
Department: Ministry of Defence

Armed Forces Bill

Baroness Goldie Excerpts
Report stage
Tuesday 23rd November 2021

(2 months ago)

Lords Chamber
Read Full debate Armed Forces Act 2021 - Government Bill Page Read Hansard Text
Lord Robathan Portrait Lord Robathan (Con)
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My Lords, if I may intervene briefly, I will start with a confession: I have not read the Mutiny Act 1689, to which the noble Lord, Lord Thomas, referred so eloquently. But I have a little experience, in that I have sat on a court martial as part of the board. I have never been court-martialled, I am glad to say, but I have experience of military justice—some decades ago now, because I am getting old. I also have some experience of it from working in the Ministry of Defence in the coalition Government. The Bill as a whole tries to make the criminal justice system in the military better. It is all to be applauded, and I am particularly impressed with the setting up of the defence serious crime unit.

I found a slight contradiction in the amendments that we are discussing today; perhaps it might be explained later. Is it because defendants—typically soldiers—are too harshly treated that they should have trial by jury? When I was serving, my experience was that, in the military justice system, there was a certain attitude: “If he is before a court martial”—it was almost exclusively a “he”—“he must be guilty”. Or is it because, as it says in Amendment 25, we need to improve the rates of conviction for serious offences? This seems to be a slight contradiction.

Is it because people do not like the whole courts martial system? That is a serious question to be addressed. In my experience, which is aged and limited, the courts martial system works pretty well, so let us know exactly why it should be that we wish to change it for these matters—and I know Judge Lyons has said so. Notwithstanding the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Thomas, that we should not consider discipline to be part of this, it is very important that we have a disciplined force. That is why we have courts martial, though no longer the death penalty for mutiny.

Baroness Goldie Portrait The Minister of State, Ministry of Defence (Baroness Goldie) (Con)
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My Lords, I am delighted to join your Lordships in the Chamber this afternoon on Report to discuss these proposed amendments to the Armed Forces Bill. This is an important Bill. I know it enjoys support across the Chamber, but interesting issues have arisen and merit discussion.

I also observe that many of the issues that were vigorously and articulately debated in Committee have resurfaced. That was a good debate, probing the legislation for the Bill. Please be assured that I will endeavour again to address the points raised and to dispel the concerns that noble Lords have around the Bill.

Your Lordships may take comfort that I am as passionately driven as anyone in this Chamber to ensure that we deliver the best for our service men and women, our veterans and their families, balanced against the resources to hand. I say with confidence that the Bill seeks to achieve that overriding objective. I am grateful to my noble friend Lord Robathan for acknowledging that this is exactly the improvement that the Bill seeks to deliver.

With that said, I will now speak to Amendments 1, 2 and 25. Just for the avoidance of doubt, I understand that the noble and learned Lord, Lord Morris of Aberavon, will not now move Amendment 25, and therefore I propose not to use my speaking notes and have a Mogadon effect on the Chamber. If the noble and learned Lord is content with that, I can perhaps shorten this debate a little.

Amendments 1 and 2 focus on the service justice system. I thank the noble and learned Lord, Lord Morris of Aberavon, for tabling Amendment 1. It seeks to amend Clause 3 so that a circuit judge or a High Court judge can be nominated by the Lord Chief Justice to sit as a judge advocate only when they are ticketed to deal with cases of murder, manslaughter and rape.

First, I reassure your Lordships that judge advocates hearing murder, manslaughter and rape cases in the courts martial have the same training and requirement for ticketing as judges hearing those cases in the Crown Court. The Judge Advocate-General and all judge advocates sit in the Crown Court for up to 60 sitting days a year and are as qualified, capable and well trained as civilian judges sitting in the Crown Court.

Tickets are allocated based on the Judge Advocate-General’s judgment that a particular judge advocate has the appropriate training, experience and ability to try the case in question. Judges nominated by or on behalf of the Lord Chief Justice to sit as a judge advocate will likewise have whatever tickets are necessary for the case that they will be trying. I trust that this will assure the noble and learned Lord that all the judges sitting in the courts martial are qualified to try whatever case is before them.

There may also be some misapprehension about another situation: when the service courts might need additional judges. As drafted, the amendment would allow only judges ticketed for murder, manslaughter and rape to be nominated to sit in the court martial. The judiciary in the service courts is already able to deal with these serious offences, so the Judge Advocate-General may need to request the nomination of a judge for other reasons. It might be because they have particular expertise or experience that is relevant for another type of offence. There might also simply be a temporary shortage of judge advocates, perhaps when the service courts have an unusually high caseload. A judge nominated to sit in the service court would need to be ticketed only for the particular type of case that they are trying; they would not need a ticket for murder, manslaughter or rape, unless of course they were dealing with those offences. I hope that that reassures your Lordships and, therefore, that the noble and learned Lord will feel able to withdraw his amendment.

I turn now to Amendment 2 in this group, tabled by the noble lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford, and supported by the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd, and the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett of Manor Castle. It seeks to ensure that certain serious crimes—murder, manslaughter, domestic violence, child abuse, rape and sexual assault with penetration—are all tried in the civilian courts when committed by a serviceperson in the UK, unless by reason of specific naval or military complexity involving the service the Attorney-General has specifically consented for such crimes to be tried at courts martial.

By way of preface, I say that it was very clear from our debate in Grand Committee that we all have a common aim: to ensure that, where there is concurrent jurisdiction, each case is heard in the most appropriate jurisdiction. This amendment seeks to achieve this through two procedural safeguards—namely, that there is a presumption that these offences are heard in the civilian courts and that, to overturn that presumption, the Attorney-General’s consent must be obtained.

We accept the need to improve decision-making in relation to jurisdiction, and a key part of that is of course for the civilian system to have a potential role in each case. We differ on the need to restrict the legal principle of concurrent jurisdiction by introducing a presumption in favour of one system over the other, and that is what the noble Lord’s amendment manages to create.

As I said in Grand Committee, the recently published review by Sir Richard Henriques was unanimous on two things, in supporting not only the continued existence of the service justice system but the retention of unqualified concurrent jurisdiction for murder, manslaughter and rape. Importantly, the review found the service justice system to be fair, robust and capable of dealing with all offending. The creation of a defence serious crime unit elsewhere in the Bill will further improve the skills and capability of the service police to deal with these most serious offences. Therefore, we do not believe that a presumption in favour of these offences being heard in the civilian courts is necessary or justified.

We acknowledge that change is required to improve clarity as to how concurrency of jurisdiction works in practice. Instead of introducing an Attorney-General consent function, as recommended by His Honour Shaun Lyons, we believe that a better approach is to strengthen the prosecutors’ protocols and enhance the role of prosecutors in decision-making on concurrent jurisdiction. Independent prosecutors are, after all, the experts on prosecutorial decisions.

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Baroness Goldie Portrait Baroness Goldie (Con)
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My Lords, I thank all noble Lords for a genuinely interesting and thoughtful debate. I will focus on the amendments that comprise the grouping: Amendments 3 to 7 and Amendment 17. To that end, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, for tabling his well-intended—I know that that is what they are—Amendments 3, 5, 6 and 7, and I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, for supporting them.

I was aware during the debate that some contributors made fairly wide-ranging speeches, not least focusing on citizens of Hong Kong and former Hong Kong military service personnel. These are important issues, but I would rather deal with them under Amendment 26, which seems more relevant to that particular area of concern. So, in addressing the amendments in group 2, I will confine my remarks to the issues covered by them.

The purpose of these amendments is to widen the scope of the new covenant duty to the areas of employment, pensions, compensation, social care, criminal justice and immigration in all four home nations. As I made clear in Committee, the new duty created by the Bill is designed to initially focus on the three core functions of healthcare, education and housing. This quite simply reflects those already in statute that are the most commonly raised areas and where variation of service delivery across localities can inadvertently cause disadvantage to the Armed Forces community.

Importantly, future areas of concern can be addressed as and when they arise through the powers in the Bill that allow the Government to widen the scope of the covenant duty, if needed, through secondary legislation. We are working with key stakeholders to establish an open and transparent process by which the scope of the legislation can successfully adapt to address the changing needs of the Armed Forces community.

As a number of your Lordship have indicated, our plan is to use the covenant reference group as the focus of this work. It has a broad representation from the Armed Forces community, service charities, families’ federations, the Local Government Association and senior officials from both central government departments in Westminster and the devolved Administrations. I suggest that the covenant reference group is therefore ideally placed to be closely involved in the future development and running of this process. It will bring the necessary expertise and representation together to best consider suitable additions to the scope of the duty.

I wish to make clear—I am not being evasive or trying to elude or escape responsibility—that we have to be very careful about what we are creating with the Bill, understand how it will work in practice, make assessments, and then have a clearer sense of what may be needed and may require to be added in the future. This will also provide an opportunity for areas of concern to emerge and be highlighted, and it may be possible that these can be addressed through other means.

In adopting this approach, we considered the practicalities of extending the covenant duty to further policy areas, and the timelines involved. Any addition to the scope of the duty will require extensive consultation with stakeholders and the devolved Administrations in order to identify the appropriate bodies and functions to bring into scope and to work through any issues arising as a result of different procedures and legal frameworks in devolved policy areas.

I suggest that a better way forward lies in first working through and resolving any practical implications arising as the new covenant duty in the Bill is implemented. This will give us a good indication of where amendments may be required to better meet the changing needs of our Armed Forces community in the future.

By retaining the flexible nature of the legislation, the Government hope to establish a firm legal foundation for the covenant while avoiding any unnecessary administrative burden. The new duty builds on the existing widespread commitment to the covenant, thereby contributing to a further strengthening of covenant delivery across the entire United Kingdom. That is not in any way dodging the bullet. I am not trying to be evasive; I am trying to explain why I think this a sensible and cautious way to proceed, and I therefore ask the noble Lord not to press these amendments.

I turn to Amendment 4, tabled by my noble and learned friend Lord Mackay of Clashfern, and supported by the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Craig of Radley, the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, and the noble Baroness, Lady Smith of Newnham. The purpose of Amendment 4 is to make central government departments subject to the new covenant duty. This new duty arises when a specified public body exercises a relevant function. Those functions, which are specified in the Bill, are exercised by local authorities and other public bodies, and are not matters for which central government has day-to-day responsibility.

The problem with the amendment as drafted is that it would not, as I far as I can see, serve any identifiable meaningful purpose. I can understand the enthusiasm among opposition Members of this House to land anything they possibly can on the Government. I know that my noble and learned friend Lord Mackay is not motivated by these sentiments and that he genuinely believes that there is an omission here that should be addressed, but I am trying to explain that I am not quite clear what the omission is, and I am certainly not clear how the amendment would address it.

It occurred to me that, in addressing the principle of this amendment, it would be useful to explain the Government’s thinking behind the design of the new covenant duty and how we see it establishing a firm foundation from which to build into the future. I hope noble Lords will indulge me: I will go into this in some detail because my noble and learned friend raises an important issue, and I believe it merits serious discussion and a considered response. I will attempt to give due attention to his amendment.

As I have outlined before, in considering how to take forward our commitment to further strengthen the covenant in law, we looked first at what the covenant has already achieved without being brought into any statutory provision. The considerable number of successful covenant initiatives across many different policy areas shows how the covenant provides a framework through which the widespread admiration and support for our Armed Forces community can flourish, allows scope for innovation and permits future growth. That is why we designed the new covenant duty around the principle of “due regard” as a means of building greater awareness and understanding of the lives of the Armed Forces community, which will bolster, rather than weaken, this support.

We considered carefully which functions and policy areas the covenant duty should encompass, including those that are the responsibility of central government. This required an assessment of the benefits arising from their inclusion, focusing on the purpose of the duty: to raise awareness among providers of public services of how service life can disadvantage the Armed Forces community, and so encourage a more consistent approach across the UK.

We were mindful that central government is responsible for the overall strategic direction for national policy, whereas the responsibility for the delivery of front-line services and their impact generally rests at local level. The Government are fully aware of issues impacting on the Armed Forces community. Indeed, we work with other departments and organisations to raise awareness across all service providers. The inclusion of central government in the scope of the duty was therefore not seen as necessary.

The noble Viscount, Lord Brookeborough, raised a particular issue with reference to Northern Ireland. The key front-line services we wish to target are generally devolved issues. They are not the responsibility of the Westminster Government, so any additions to the scope of the duty in respect of central government would not address the concern he has but would cause a greater disparity in covenant delivery if the—

Viscount Brookeborough Portrait Viscount Brookeborough (CB)
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I thank the noble Baroness for giving way. I remind her that when we found that the Executive were not operating on things that they should operate on, as in this case—I am talking about abortion—this Government, from here, overrode the Assembly. Therefore, there is a precedent for doing so.

Baroness Goldie Portrait Baroness Goldie (Con)
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The noble Lord refers to a very difficult and sensitive issue, and I think he is referring to the time when the Executive were not functioning in Northern Ireland. This Bill is concerned with the actual delivery of services that exist at the moment. It is the responsibility of Northern Ireland’s devolved legislature to deliver health, housing and education, although it may not directly be doing any of these things. That is why bringing in central government does not address the noble Lord’s concern. Indeed, there is an argument that, if you brought in the Westminster Government but not the devolved Governments, there would be an even greater disparity in covenant delivery. The reason the devolved Governments are not in this Bill is that it would seem to be beyond its scope.

I have previously explained that, as we look to the future, the vital element in our approach rests with the new powers granted to the Government in the Bill to add to the scope of the duty. This will allow it to effectively adapt to the changing needs and concerns of the Armed Forces community. We are engaging with government officials and covenant stakeholders to establish an open and transparent process, by which possible additions to the new duty can be thoroughly considered and evaluated, and we expect issues of concern to be raised, as they are now, by members of the Armed Forces community, by service charities and by other stakeholders through our existing networks. So, to be clear, we see no restriction to the nature of any issue raised, including those that fall within the responsibility of central government.

My noble friend Lord Lancaster asked wisely whether it would not have been better to approach this incrementally. I think that is exactly what would be better, and that is what the Government are intending to do. His other words, I think, were about being very wary of doing too much too soon. The reason the Government are being cautious about this is that we are breaking new ground. We are going where Governments have not gone before in relation to the covenant. We hope it will lead to improvement right across the United Kingdom, but we have to assess in practice how this will all work once this legislation has gone through.

The plan, as we look to the future, is for the work to be focused through the covenant reference group, which, as a number of your Lordships are aware, is made up of independent representatives from service charities, such as the Royal British Legion, the War Widows’ Association and the families’ federations, and, as I said earlier, includes senior officials from central government departments at Westminster and from the devolved Administrations. That group plays an important role in working with the Government to set out the overall direction of the covenant. It ratifies the grant-awarding priorities of the Armed Forces covenant fund trust, as it is recognised as having a clear understanding of the issues of most concern to the Armed Forces community.

I think it was the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, who asked about the covenant reference group and its terms of reference. The covenant reference group feeds into the ministerial covenant veterans board, chaired by the Defence Secretary and the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, and that board last met on 8 November. So, at the senior levels of government, this work is very much on the radar screen and being addressed.

In my opinion, the covenant reference group is ideally placed to be closely involved in the evaluation process, both in terms of its development and the conduct of its work. Where there is evidence to support the inclusion of new bodies and functions, a recommendation will be made to the Secretary of State for Defence, who will then consult with relevant stakeholders. Where a decision is made to exercise the power to extend the scope of the duty, further consultation will be required with key stakeholders before making regulations, which would need to be approved by both Houses of Parliament.

Crucially, any evaluation process must also ensure that extending the scope of the new duty would help to address any perceived problem, as it may not always be the appropriate response and there may be other methods of addressing the areas of disadvantage required under the covenant that do not necessarily require statutory powers.

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Lord Kerr of Kinlochard Portrait Lord Kerr of Kinlochard (CB)
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I do not disagree with all the good things that the noble Baroness is describing, which the Government have brought about, but I have not heard her address the central argument of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay of Clashfern: that it might be easier for the Government to persuade others to go on doing good things if the Government bound themselves in the same way as they are seeking to bind others. I suppose the noble Baroness could say that the Government feel bound already, but if so, why not spell it out in the Bill?

Baroness Goldie Portrait Baroness Goldie (Con)
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I am sure the noble Lord has been listening carefully to the argument that I have been advancing, but I have been trying to distinguish between identified, critical core services—in this case housing, education and health, which the Armed Forces community said mattered most to them—and how we address the delivery of these services. In the main, these services are not delivered by central government but by a range of other agencies, and may be the responsibility of devolved Administrations, in turn delivering them through their agencies. The point I am making is that adding an obligation to central government does not seem in any way to address the need that we have identified that has to be addressed: the current disparity in the delivery of services across the United Kingdom. That, quite simply, is what the Bill is seeking to rectify. That is why trying to attach a covenant obligation to central government is something of a red herring—I do not actually see what it is going to deliver.

Before the noble Lord interrupted me, I was simply explaining, by way of illustration, the point I have just been making: exactly what it has been possible for the Government to do without attaching any statutory obligation on them, and I am not even halfway through my list. At the risk of being tedious with your Lordships, I was also going to mention, finally, a new holistic transition policy that co-ordinates and manages the transition from military to civilian life for service personnel and their families when they leave the Armed Forces. The Defence Transition Services also supports those in that position. We have the Career Transition Partnership, and a range of initiatives and support packages covering a wide range of activity, all of which benefit our Armed Forces personnel. I merely adduce that list to illustrate how alternative processes allow areas of concern to be brought to light more readily and addressed more quickly through other means, if necessary, including action to be taken by central government departments and devolved Administrations, where appropriate.

I think it was the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, who specifically raised the evaluation process. This would feed into our existing commitment to review the overall performance of the covenant duty as part of our post-legislation scrutiny. That review will be submitted to the House of Commons Defence Select Committee and will also be covered in the covenant annual report. This is in addition to regular parliamentary scrutiny, such as Parliamentary Questions and regular reviews by the Select Committee, or whatever form of inquiry Members of the other place and of this House may wish to undertake. The detail of the evaluation process is still being worked on with our stakeholders, but I hope that this background and the outline of the process provides reassurance that it represents a better way forward and that we are committed to continuing our work to mitigate the impact of service life on the Armed Forces community, wherever it may occur.

Listening to some of the contributions, it occurred to me that there may be a misunderstanding of the role of the Armed Forces covenant. My noble and learned friend Lord Mackay of Clashfern recalled an interesting and arguably disturbing situation, in which it is possible that Armed Forces personnel suffered harm. I undertake to look at that instance in detail; he provided a reference for where I can find more information.

However, I say to my noble and learned friend that central government, and the MoD in particular, are directly responsible for the Armed Forces, and the MoD has always looked after the welfare of service personnel. During the Bill’s passage through this House, we have heard how the support provided has improved, expanded and developed over time, particularly in relation to issues such as mental health. Central government and the MoD answer to Ministers, are held to account in Parliament, and may be held to account by the courts of this land. But the covenant is a separate concept: it is a promise by the nation as a whole to the Armed Forces community that they will not be disadvantaged because of their service. It brings in other organisations, such as health providers and local authorities, who are not directly responsible for the Armed Forces community but whose decisions undoubtedly affect them. It is this new duty that will ensure that these organisations consistently apply the principles of the covenant and can be confident of the legal basis for doing so. Based on this fairly lengthy explanation, I hope that my noble and learned friend will not press his amendment.

I turn to Amendment 17, also tabled by my noble and learned friend Lord Mackay of Clashfern. I know that he is motivated by the best and most honourable of intentions, but I am somewhat unclear about its purpose. The new definition contained in the amendment adds nothing to the duties already set out in the Bill. Indeed, perhaps disquietingly, it seems to decrease the scope of that duty, which I know is not my noble and learned friend’s intention.

We are clear that the Armed Forces covenant is a promise by the nation to support our Armed Forces community. The amendment characterises the scope and character of that promise as an agreement between the Secretary of State and servicepeople. But, with the greatest respect to my noble and learned friend, in doing so, it fails to capture its essence: it is a much broader and more widely embracing concept.

The covenant was framed during a time of great pressure on the Armed Forces community. As I have described at some length, it has been delivered highly successfully in the succeeding decade because it captures the spirit of appreciation and voluntary support for that community from people of every walk of life across the United Kingdom. This voluntary spirit is why it is called a covenant and framed as something far greater than the more transactional approach that this amendment could engender. To express the covenant in the way proposed by this amendment goes against the spirit of the covenant and the many successful initiatives that it has produced, built on the widespread admiration and support to which I have referred.

The Armed Forces covenant is described on the government website for the Armed Forces, and on the front of the annual report, as

“an Enduring Covenant Between the People of the United Kingdom, Her Majesty's Government—and—All those who serve or have served in the Armed Forces of the Crown and their Families.”

That definition is not in statue, but the principles of the covenant appear in the Armed Forces Act 2006. That is why this Bill has been taking forward greater detail, to try to assist the delivery of vital services for our Armed Forces community.

The description I have just given of the covenant far better captures its nature, which provides the framework through which support for our Armed Forces community can thrive and grow. I thank your Lordships for indulging me with patience and courtesy, as these were important points which had to be addressed at length. In view of the explanation I have given, I hope my noble and learned friend will feel able to withdraw his amendment.

Lord Mackay of Clashfern Portrait Lord Mackay of Clashfern (Con)
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My Lords, I thank the Minister for her very detailed answer to my amendment. It was clear to me, from the beginning of this provision titled “Armed Forces Covenant Report” in the 2011 Act, that all that had been done to make any references to the Armed Forces covenant in this was to delete the word “report”. But it seemed to me that, in the ordinary course of statutory interpretation, you need to know what you are talking about, and I was surprised—I thought I must have missed something, though the Minister now confirms that I did not—that there was nothing in statute to define the Armed Forces of the Crown covenant. A covenant is a contract, and it is obvious that the people of the United Kingdom are represented in this agreement by the Secretary of State. Therefore, it seems to me odd that the Secretary of State is not prepared to have regard to the principles given at the opening of this provision. Of course, the term “Secretary of State” includes the Secretary of State for Defence and other Secretaries of State as well, if that is relevant to the provision in question. I find it hard to have the Government of the United Kingdom say that they are not prepared to be bound to have regard to the principles of the covenant.

If I should by any chance be successful, this will go back to the House of Commons, and the Commons will have to ask themselves whether it is reasonable that the Government of this country should refuse to be bound to have regard to the principles of the Armed Forces covenant. I do not think the Government intend that, but that is the effect of leaving this out. Having this on a website is not equivalent, as yet, to having it in law—the statute book is still distinct from a website. It rather comforts me that the definition on the website includes the Government. I think that something of this kind is necessary, and I had rather hoped that the Minister might think of Third Reading as a time to put in a definition, but there is no offer of that kind, and I understand why she is not a position to do that.

I thank all who have supported me, as I think all who have spoken apart from the Minister have, which is a very good situation so far as I am concerned. I am not concerned about anything except that the Armed Forces covenant should be as effective as possible in law in our country. I do not subscribe to the other extensions that were being suggested in amendments because I can see that there is power to do that and, as and when resources are available, it would be right to bring that in by regulation.

In the meantime, I very much regret to tell my noble friend that in all conscience I do not feel able to withdraw the amendment. It is a matter that has to be faced by those who are responsible for this if they are not prepared to subscribe to having regard to the principles of the Armed Forces covenant.

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8: Clause 8, page 15, line 35, at end insert—
“(3A) Guidance under this section—(a) may not be issued unless a draft has been laid before Parliament, and(b) comes into force on whatever day the Secretary of State may appoint by regulations.”Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment would provide for guidance under new section 343AE to be laid in draft before Parliament and for the coming into force of the guidance to be governed by regulations (and is to be read with Baroness Goldie’s amendments at lines 36 and 43 of page 15 and page 18, line 39).
Baroness Goldie Portrait Baroness Goldie (Con)
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My Lords, I am delighted to speak to the government amendments that will implement specific recommendations of the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee in respect of the Armed Forces covenant. Among this group are some minor and technical corrections to the Bill.

The Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee—whose painstaking work is often unsung and to whom I pay tribute and offer thanks—made two recommendations in respect of the Armed Forces covenant. These relate to the power under new Section 343AE to issue guidance to which public authorities must have regard when exercising relevant statutory functions, and to those who are classed as “service people” and are therefore beneficiaries of the covenant duty. Having considered the committee’s recommendations and recognising the impact these matters may have on the duties imposed on public bodies, we have brought these amendments to provide for greater parliamentary scrutiny in these key elements of the duty.

I will first address government Amendments 8, 9, 11, 12, and 19, which relate to the statutory guidance that we are preparing in support of the duty. These amendments will require the guidance to be laid before Parliament in draft before it can be issued and provide for the guidance to be brought into force by regulations using the affirmative resolution procedure. Given the status of the guidance and its importance in supporting the public bodies that will be subject to the duty, these amendments will provide Parliament with a greater opportunity to scrutinise this document before it is issued.

Amendments 16, 18 and 20 relate to the definition of “relevant family members” for the purpose of the covenant duty. The covenant principles relate to disadvantages arising for “service people”, with special provision being made for such people. The term “service people” is defined in Section 343B of the Armed Forces Act 2006 to include “relevant family members” of service and former service personnel, but this does not include a description of precisely who is a relevant family member for the purposes of the covenant duties. As this group of people will need to be considered by those public bodies in scope of the new duty, we have accepted the committee’s recommendation to specify in regulations who is to be regarded as a relevant family member and that the affirmative resolution procedure is appropriate.

These amendments will therefore amend Section 343B of the Armed Forces Act 2006 to provide for “relevant family members” to be defined in regulations that will be subject to the affirmative resolution procedure. The definition set out in the regulations will apply to both the new “due regard” duty and the Armed Forces covenant report. However, for the purposes of the report, the definition will also include such persons connected with service members and ex-service members as the Secretary of State may decide, as is currently the case under Section 343B.

In addition to the recommendation of the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee, the amendments will also require the Secretary of State to consult with the devolved Administrations and other stakeholders he considers appropriate before making the regulations.

There are further minor and technical amendments to Clause 8. Amendments 10 and 13 amend new Sections 343AE(4)(c) and 343AF(7)(c) to correct drafting omissions to ensure that the duty on the Secretary of State to consult a Northern Ireland department on regulations or guidance applies only where the Northern Ireland devolved context is affected. This mirrors the position for Wales and Scotland.

Amendment 14 to new Section 343AF, which is inserted by Amendment 19, removes a superfluous part of the definition of Northern Ireland devolved competence, also bringing it into line with the approach for Wales and Scotland. I hope your Lordships will support these amendments, which will provide Parliament a greater opportunity to scrutinise these key elements supporting the covenant duty before they become law.

Amendments 21 and 22 are minor and technical in nature and are being brought forward to improve the drafting of the Bill and ensure consistency with existing legislation. Amendment 21 will allow the regulations that replicate the effect of Section 10(5) of the Police Reform Act 2002 to also replicate the effect of Section 54(2D) of the Police Act 1996. The service police complaints commissioner and Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Constabulary have complementary statutory functions and are charged with the oversight of the service police forces. This amendment will require them to enter into arrangements with each other for the purposes of securing co-operation and providing assistance in the carrying out of their respective functions. Amendment 22 would provide for the records of the service police complaints commissioner to be “public records” for the purpose of the Public Records Act 1958. I beg to move.

Lord Tunnicliffe Portrait Lord Tunnicliffe (Lab)
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My Lords, we welcome the increased parliamentary scrutiny for the statutory guidance on the application of the duty for due regard. This was a recommendation of the Delegated Powers Committee, which we thank for its work on this. Could the Minister give us some indication of how the consultation with the devolved Administrations on drafting the guidance is going? We also welcome the Government’s acceptance of the Delegated Powers Committee’s recommendation to ensure that regulations defining “relevant family members” are subject to the affirmative procedure.

Baroness Smith of Newnham Portrait Baroness Smith of Newnham (LD)
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My Lords, from these Benches, I echo the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Tunnicliffe. The amendments that have been brought forward all seem sensible and, as the Minister said, we owe a debt of gratitude to the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee for looking in such detail at this legislation, as in so many cases, and particularly for being glad, as always, to have any changes made with affirmative assent rather than negative approval. There is little to add at this stage. We look forward to the Minister moving these amendments and then moving to other groups that might be a little more contentious.

Baroness Goldie Portrait Baroness Goldie (Con)
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My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Tunnicliffe, and the noble Baroness, Lady Smith of Newnham. We are working with our stake- holders over the course of this year to develop the accompanying statutory guidance document. Their views are essential to ensure that the guidance is practical, useful and robust. We are also engaging with a wide range of stakeholders, including devolved Administrations, covenant partners across government, the Armed Forces community, local authorities, relevant ombudsmen and the service charity and welfare sectors. As I indicated, the Secretary of State is required to consult the devolved Administrations and other stakeholders whom he considers appropriate before the guidance can be published. Once it is, the document will remain subject to periodic update to ensure that it continues to remain up to date. I hope that answers the points that the noble Lord was interested in.

Amendment 8 agreed.
Moved by
9: Clause 8, page 15, line 36, leave out “issuing guidance under subsection (1)” and insert “laying draft guidance under this section before Parliament”
Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment is supplementary to Baroness Goldie’s amendment at page 15, line 35.
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Baroness Goldie Portrait Baroness Goldie (Con)
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I thank my noble friend Lord Lancaster for retabling his amendment. I understand his motivation for doing so. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Tunnicliffe, and the noble Baroness, Lady Smith, for their contributions. I will not rehearse the whole structure behind the VAPCs, which my noble friend very eloquently did. I will make two points in response to him. First, for several years, VAPC members have undertaken activities that go above and beyond the scope of the statute. They have undertaken these additional activities on a non-statutory basis instead, and there have been no substantive issues with them doing so.

My second point is to acknowledge—and I hope this reassures my noble friend—that there may be ways in which we can improve on this arrangement. The Government are committed to looking again at the role of the VAPCs. That is why the MoD and the Office for Veterans’ Affairs recently agreed with the chairs of the VAPCs a new set of non-statutory terms of reference to guide their activities. The terms of reference envisage that VAPC members will undertake many of the activities listed in his amendment, such as raising awareness of the strategy for our veterans and the proposed new duty to have due regard to the covenant. The terms of reference are set for an initial period of 12 months. I confirm to my noble friend that we intend to use this period and the evidence we gather during it to work with the VAPCs to review what they have done, how effective they have been in doing it, and whether and how their statutory role might need to be amended in the future.

Anticipating the point from the noble Baroness, Lady Smith, I hope my noble friend will understand why seeking to amend this Bill at the present time is premature. The Government have already set themselves on a course to review the role of the VAPCs, but we are doing this first via the introduction of new terms of reference, and we want to give the VAPCs a chance to perform under them before we take firm decisions about their longer-term future.

Legislative change may well need to follow and the evidence we gather over the coming months will help to inform us on this point. As it is, we are not sure that the legislative provision proposed in my noble friend’s amendment is necessarily the most suitable or effective way of achieving the desired outcome. For example, it would provide for only a specific and rather limited adjustment to the VAPCs’ statutory role, when instead we might want to consider more fundamental changes.

My noble friend will appreciate that I cannot speculate about the precise vehicle or timing for any future legislative change. However, I am very willing to commit to him that I and my officials will explore what changes we can make in this area and I hope that, with that reassurance, my noble friend will be content to withdraw his amendment.

Amendment 15 withdrawn.
Moved by
16: Clause 8, page 18, leave out line 32 and insert—
“(b) subsection (4) is amended as follows— (i) in the definition of “relevant family members”, after “means” insert “such persons as may be prescribed, and for the purposes of section 343A also includes”;(ii) at the appropriate place insert—”Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment and Baroness Goldie’s amendment at page 18, line 37 would provide for “relevant family members” to be defined in regulations.
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Moved by
18: Clause 8, page 18, line 37, at end insert—
“(c) after subsection (4) insert—“(4A) In subsection (4) “prescribed” means prescribed by regulations made by the Secretary of State under this subsection.(4B) Before making regulations under subsection (4A) the Secretary of State must consult—(a) the Welsh Ministers so far as the regulations contain provision that is within Welsh devolved competence,(b) the Scottish Ministers so far as the regulations contain provision that is within Scottish devolved competence,(c) the relevant Northern Ireland department so far as the regulations contain provision that is within Northern Ireland devolved competence, and(d) any other persons the Secretary of State considers appropriate.(4C) Subsections (8) to (10) of section 343AF apply for the purposes of subsection (4B) as they apply for the purposes of that section.””Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment and Baroness Goldie’s amendment at page 18, line 32 would provide for “relevant family members” to be defined in regulations. This amendment also imposes requirements with regard to consultation.
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Moved by
21: Clause 11, page 23, line 6, at end insert—
“(2A) If regulations under subsection (1) include provision corresponding (with or without modifications) to section 10(5) of the Police Reform Act 2002 (general functions of Director General), the regulations may also provide for subsection (2D) of section 54 of the Police Act 1996 (functions of inspectors of constabulary) to apply (with or without modifications) in relation to the Service Police Complaints Commissioner as that subsection applies in relation to the Director General of the Independent Office for Police Conduct.”Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment would enable regulations to impose on the chief inspector of constabulary duties which would be reciprocal to duties imposed on the Service Police Complaints Commissioner by the same regulations.
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Moved by
22: Schedule 4, page 52, line 23, at end insert—
“2A_ In Part 2 of the Table in paragraph 3 of Schedule 1 to the Public Records Act 1958 (definition of public records), at the appropriate place insert—“Service Police Complaints Commissioner.””Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment would provide for records of the Service Police Complaints Commissioner to be public records for the purposes of the Public Records Act 1958.
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The point made by my noble friend Lord Robertson about the defence representation unit in Amendment 27 is important. He made his points really well, so I will not repeat them, but the necessity to ensure that Armed Forces personnel and veterans are properly supported when they face legal action is a principle I am sure we would all support. My noble friend may not put that to a vote, but it is an important point of principle that the Government need to consider.
Baroness Goldie Portrait Baroness Goldie (Con)
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My Lords, I thank the noble and learned Lord, Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd, for his amendment. I know this is an issue in which he is keenly interested and one which he has pursued with vigour. I will speak first to Amendment 23 in his name and supported by the noble Lords, Lord Coaker, Lord Robertson of Port Ellen and Lord Thomas of Gresford.

We had a useful and, I think, constructive debate in Grand Committee on the defence serious crime unit and this amendment. The DSCU is an important part of Sir Richard Henriques’ recent review. Indeed, 20 of the 64 recommendations of that review relate to that unit. I am extremely pleased that we have been able to take swift action to make the necessary changes to primary legislation in order to deliver that unit, and I think everyone shares that view.

Let me address at the outset the specific issue of the number of Sir Richard’s 20 recommendations on the DSCU that the Government are accepting. I think noble Lords were left with the impression that only a small number had been accepted, because the government amendments in Grand Committee related only to three recommendations on the DSCU. It is certainly not the case that only a small number of recommendations have been accepted. Let me explain. With one exception, where we are taking a slightly different approach to civilians, the Government accept all Sir Richard’s recommendations on the DSCU. All the recommendations that we accept and that require primary legislation are dealt with in the Bill. The three recommendations I referred to in Grand Committee reflect those that require primary legislation to constitute the DSCU. These are the changes needed to deliver an operational unit. In particular, they give the provost marshal for serious crime the same powers and duty of investigative independence, on the same terms, as the existing provost marshals. The other recommendations that the Government accept do not require primary legislation.

This mirrors the usual position of a review of this nature, where some recommendations require primary legislation to be implemented and others simply do not. I have sought to explain this in clear terms today, but I have also made available a fact sheet to set out in detail the Ministry of Defence’s work on the DSCU. Indeed, a number of your Lordships helpfully referred to that. I have circulated that fact sheet to opposition defence spokespersons, but I have copies with me in the Chamber today if anyone wishes sight of one.

I also want to assure noble Lords that the Ministry of Defence is now taking forward the DSCU project, both the legislative and non-legislative elements, with considerable speed and energy. As well as the swift work on the primary legislation, work on the necessary changes to secondary legislation is well under way. In Grand Committee, noble Lords agreed a power to make consequential secondary legislation, which will facilitate this once the Bill is passed. A DSCU implementation team has been established, led by a senior civil servant. It is a multidisciplinary team of project management and service police specialists representing the three services. An individual has now been selected to be the provost marshal for serious crime designate. Their initial focus will be to lead the implementation of the DSCU to full delivery. I noticed the comment by the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford, that he thought this was putting the cart before the horse, but I disagree. This is a sensible, logical, structured way in which to proceed.

I now turn to the specific issues raised in this amendment. In general terms, I do not believe that adding these further Henriques DSCU recommendations to primary legislation is necessary. They will form part of the work that is already under way to establish the DSCU. I am happy to confirm that we are already working towards a DSCU by April 2022 and will look to implement a victim and witness care unit shortly after. In addition, the implementation team has already started work on the establishment of a strategic policing board, which is also to be in place by April 2022. The provost marshal for serious crime will produce an annual report to the Minister for Defence People and Veterans, which that Minister will provide to Parliament. None of these matters requires primary legislation.

Let me say a bit more about three specific issues: the independence of the DSCU, the role of civilians, and the investigative protocols. On independence, the amendment includes the language:

“The tri-service serious crime unit must carry out its investigations in a manner that is operationally independent of the military chain of command.”


However, I respectfully suggest to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd, that this is already reflected in the Bill. I remind your Lordships of the recommendations from Sir Richard regarding the implementation of a defence serious crime unit. He was specific. He said:

“The Provost Marshal (Serious Crime) should have a duty of operational independence in investigative matters owed to the Defence Council, on the same terms as that owed by the”


existing

“Provost Marshals under section 115A of the Armed Forces Act 2006.”

That is what we achieve in this Bill and what we are delivering under Clause 12(3).

As the noble and learned Lord indicated, the UK courts have already found that, under the existing structure, the service police are capable of being

“hierarchically, institutionally and practically independent”

of those that they are investigating. It is therefore right that the duty on the new provost marshal for serious crime is the same as the existing duty on the provost marshal of each of the service police forces. I urge noble Lords to look at Clause 12(3) if anyone is in any doubt about the impact of that clause.

The Ministry of Defence shares Sir Richard’s ambitions for an increased role for civilians in the DSCU. It is already possible under existing arrangements for civilians to work alongside the service police in delivering service police functions. There are examples of civilians taking on leadership roles in the service police, and of secondments from civilian police forces to the service police. As part of the work of the DSCU implementation team, we will look at options to appoint a civilian in a senior leadership role and at how experienced civilian police can work with the unit. I say specifically to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd, and the noble Lords, Lord Thomas of Gresford and Lord Coaker, that what we cannot do at this stage is have a civilian as deputy provost marshal, because that is a role for service persons and currently subject to Armed Forces systems of command and discipline. At present, simply making them a civilian might give them the title of deputy provost marshal but without the concomitant mechanisms of accountability and control. I am sure that is not what the amendment desires to achieve, but it would be its effect. The role of civilians therefore needs further consideration and work as part of the implementation exercise. However, I hope I have indicated that there is no antipathy within the MoD to the role of civilians in this important process.

I want to address the protocols regarding fatalities and ill-treatment cases referred to in the amendment. As we set out in the ministerial Statement, and as I confirmed in Grand Committee, the non-legislative protocols for dealing with fatalities and ill-treatment cases on overseas operations—between the service police, the Director of Service Prosecutions and the Judge Advocate-General—should rightly be considered by those independent bodies in the first instance. I draw noble Lords’ attention to Sir Richard’s own view on this, which is that “an agreed protocol” is “preferable to legislation”. That particularly avoids compromising the independence of the Director of Service Prosecutions. We support Sir Richard’s recommendation that the protocols should be non-legislative. Taking that approach will allow for more flexibility as the protocol text can be amended at speed in response to lessons learned during its application. Sir Richard also made the point that agreements along the lines that he proposed,

“doubtless with variations to achieve flexibility”,

could be achieved but only once the issue of coronial jurisdiction had been resolved. That was his recommendation 41, and we will engage with the Ministry of Justice on it.

We will be supporting the service police, the Director of Service Prosecutions and the Judge Advocate-General in this important work. The principles of timeliness, regular reviews and consultation are extremely significant. However, there are likely to be issues for these bodies and individuals to consider. In particular, they would need to be comfortable that the arrangements respected the proper relationships between the police, the prosecutors and the judiciary. Further work will be needed to ensure that we address Sir Richard’s concerns over investigations without falling foul of the constitutional principles of the independence of the investigation, the prosecution and the judiciary.

As I have set out, these are important but complicated matters, and the service police, the Director of Service Prosecutions and the Judge Advocate-General need time to properly consider them. While I am sure they will seek to undertake the necessary work to progress them as quickly as possible, it is vital that they get them right and it is important to respect their independence. I do not think it would be appropriate for Parliament to set a timeline of July 2022 for their implementation. I therefore urge the noble and learned Lord to withdraw his amendment.

I will speak to the other half of the group—Amendment 27—which has been tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Robertson of Port Ellen, and supported by the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd. This amendment seeks an early decision—one month after Royal Assent of the Bill—on whether the MoD is going to accept or reject the recommendations in the Henriques review report for the establishment of a defence representation unit and, if the recommendations are accepted, requires the Minister to lay a report before Parliament, setting out a plan and timeline for establishing the unit by July 2022.

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Baroness Smith of Newnham Portrait Baroness Smith of Newnham (LD)
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My Lords, I support the amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, which I and the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett of Manor Castle, have signed.

In the first group of amendments this evening, the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, pointed out that she was the only female Peer speaking in that group. At that stage, I did not speak, not because I did not think it was important to speak on service justice but because we felt from these Benches that it was appropriate to have one person speaking, and that person was my noble friend Lord Thomas of Gresford. He is rather more expert on the military justice side of things than I am. I would like to add my support to tackling the range of issues that are faced by women in the military.

The noble Lord, Lord Coaker, pointed out that this is a probing amendment, but it is an important amendment because the report that was done for the House of Commons Defence Sub-Committee, brought forward by Sarah Atherton, was a very revealing one. I know that the Minister is aware of the report, not just from iterations in this Chamber but because, at some point during the Summer Recess, I happened to turn on “Woman’s Hour”, and I heard none other than the Minister and Sarah Atherton MP talking about the report.

These are issues of concern not only within the Armed Forces and the Palace of Westminster; they are issues that have traction much more broadly. They are important issues and, while it might not be necessary to include this amendment in the Bill, it is vital that the Government take notice of the issues that have been raised by serving female personnel and veterans.

As the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, pointed out, there is a set of issues that needs to be thought about. Bullying and harassment have no place in the Armed Forces. Some of the issues that have been revealed, as mentioned in the previous group of amendments by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd, are actually very damaging to public understanding of the Armed Forces. We need to be very careful to make sure that, if discipline is not maintained and there are issues affecting people in the Armed Forces—particularly women—they are looked into. If the Minister is not able to accept the language of this amendment, we would be grateful if she would explain a little bit more about what the Ministry of Defence is doing to help bring about behavioural change.

Statements from the Secretary of State might be of interest, but the current Secretary of State seems to talk to the media an awful lot. Sometimes it feels as if he is rather shooting from the hip. It would be nice to know that some of these comments are actually based on practice and ways of effecting change. Can the Minister give us some comfort in this regard?

Baroness Goldie Portrait Baroness Goldie (Con)
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My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, for tabling this amendment. He is quite right: it raises issues that all of us care about very deeply, as the noble Baroness, Lady Smith, so eloquently described.

In essence, the amendment proposes a new clause requiring the Secretary of State to review whether an independent defence authority is desirable. It might be helpful to your Lordships if I try to set a little bit of context for this, and then try to address the specific questions that the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, and the noble Baroness, Lady Smith, raised.

First, we believe that the vision of a central defence authority, as it was foreseen in the Wigston review, is being delivered through the diversity and inclusion directorate. The noble Lord, Lord Coaker, specifically raised this point, so let me try to address these issues and reassure him. Eleven out of the 12 Wigston recommendations relating to the authority have now been achieved. They have been delivered. Your Lordships may remember that Danuta Gray was ordered to carry out a progress assessment one year after the Wigston review to see how it was getting on. She is independent of the MoD, and she concluded that a new diversity and inclusion directorate would, in effect, fulfil the functions of a central defence authority.

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Lord Alton of Liverpool Portrait Lord Alton of Liverpool (CB)
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My Lords, we had a good debate earlier when my noble and gallant friend Lord Craig spoke to Amendment 4 tabled by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay of Clashfern. There was a degree of unanimity around the House that this issue needed to be addressed. The Minister was good enough to say that, although she would not reply on Amendment 4 to the issue of Hong Kong ex-servicemen, when we reached this part of our proceedings on Amendment 26 she would be able to give us some reply. I rather hoped that might mean she wanted some space to try to digest some of the points that he and I tried to make earlier.

I particularly reinforce what the noble Baroness, Lady Smith of Newnham, said about the relationship between the MoD and the Home Office on this. If nothing else comes of this evening, will the Minister agree to facilitate a meeting involving perhaps those who have participated in this debate but also her noble friend Lady Williams of Trafford, at which we might try to make some progress on these two questions—one about citizenship and the other about the specific position of the Hong Kong ex-servicemen?

If the Minister has the figures, I wonder if she could share with the House the number of people we are talking about who fall into the category—whether the figures I gave earlier are correct or not. Sometimes it is what you do in small things that matters most, and we are talking about very small numbers of people. It was a point alluded to my noble friend Lord Brookeborough a few moments ago, that when you compare this very small group with the number of people who try to arrive in the United Kingdom—some illegally—it is how we behave towards them that will matter.

This brought me back briefly to debates in another place in 1983, when I spoke on the nationality Act about citizenship and the effects it would have on people in Hong Kong. Sadly, many of the things predicted during that debate have come to pass. The trajectory we all hoped that Hong Kong might be on post 1997 —“one country, two systems”, and an honouring of the difference between Hong Kong and mainland China —has clearly not happened. That has left people in a precarious position, and none more so than those who served the Crown. I reinforce the point I made earlier: these people’s lives are clearly now in danger, and we have a duty to do something about that. It is a point that my noble friend Lord Dannatt made as well.

That is all I wanted to say. I know I had the chance to speak earlier on. I hope the Minister will think about how she can, in a practical way, take these two relatively small questions forward and see if we can get some justice for those involved.

Baroness Goldie Portrait Baroness Goldie (Con)
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My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, for tabling this amendment and the noble Lord, Lord Tunnicliffe, for his remarks in support of it. I am also grateful to those who have contributed to the debate, not least the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Craig of Radley, the noble Baroness, Lady Smith, the noble Viscount, Lord Brookeborough, and the noble Lords, Lord Dannatt and Lord Alton.

I think your Lordships will understand that I am at the Dispatch Box as MoD Minister. I cannot speak on behalf of the FCDO or the Home Office, but let me try and address some of the more technical issues to at least give context to what the amendment seeks to achieve. The first thing I want to say is that the Government highly value the service of all members of our Armed Forces, including: our Commonwealth nationals, our Gurkhas in Nepal, who have a long and distinguished history of service to the UK both here and overseas; and former British Hong Kong service personnel.

Before I address the detail of the proposed new clauses, I would like to say a few words about the process for setting immigration fees. Application fees for immigration and nationality applications have been charged for a number of years. They are charged under powers set out under Section 68 of the Immigration Act 2014. They play a vital role in our country’s ability to run a sustainable borders and immigration system, reducing the burden that falls on taxpayers.

Sitting beneath the Immigration Act are a fees order and fees regulations, all of which are scrutinised by both Houses before they come into effect; there is a democratic prism to all this. This system ensures checks and balances, and it seeks to maintain the coherence of the immigration fees framework as set out in legislation. If we were to remove these fees during the passage of this Bill, as the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, suggests in his amendment, it would undermine the existing legal framework for fees, without proper consideration for either the sustainability of the system or fairness to the UK taxpayer. It would also reduce clarity in the fees structure by creating an alternative mechanism for controlling fees which sits outside the immigration fees regime.

When non-UK service personnel, including Commonwealth citizens and Gurkhas from Nepal, enlist in the regular Armed Forces, they are granted exemption from immigration control status for the duration of their service. That is to allow them to come and go without restriction. They are free from any requirements to make visa applications or pay any fees while they serve, and that is unlike almost every other category of migrant coming to work in the UK. Those who have served at least four years or been medically discharged as a result of service can choose to settle in the UK after their service and pay the relevant fee.

As a number of your Lordships are aware, the time before discharge that such settlement applications can be submitted has been extended this year from 10 to 18 weeks. Those applying for themselves do not have to meet an income requirement, be sponsored by an employer, or meet any requirements regarding their skills, knowledge of the English language or knowledge of life in the UK, again putting them in a favourable position compared with others who seek to settle here. We recognise, however, that settlement fees may place a financial burden on non-UK serving personnel wishing to remain in the UK after their discharge, and we recognise the strength of feeling of parliamentarians, service charities and the public on this issue.

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Lord Alton of Liverpool Portrait Lord Alton of Liverpool (CB)
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Can we press the Minister further on this point about the link between the MoD and the Home Office? She is of course right, but she has just said that it is a continuing process of consultation. The Home Office has been saying that for year after year, as referred to by my noble and gallant friend in his remarks earlier. When does the Minister think that that will conclude, and will she respond to the point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Smith, and me about the importance of facilitating a meeting between the Home Office, the MoD and noble Lords who are involved and interested in this issue?

Baroness Goldie Portrait Baroness Goldie (Con)
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I would say to the noble Lord, Lord Alton, that I understand the strength of feelings so ably articulated by him, the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Craig of Radley, the noble Lord, Lord Dannatt, the noble Baroness, Lady Smith, and the noble Viscount, Lord Brookeborough. I understand the strength of feeling expressed in the House in relation to individuals who have served this country. But, as I have explained, there is an existing legal framework in place for immigration fees which already enables proper consideration to be given by government and Parliament to the full range of issues in setting those fees.

The issues raised by this amendment are already subject to a consultation that is entering its final stages. I can tell the noble Lord, Lord Alton, that I have no magic wand that I can wave, and that this is another department’s responsibility. I can also confirm that the specific issues around Hong Kong are also under consideration.

Viscount Brookeborough Portrait Viscount Brookeborough (CB)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The Minister talks about consultation. I ask her to let us know who has been consulted and how many of the cohort group have been. Clearly, it will be very wide of the mark if none of them has been spoken to. So how many people, who, when, and has it involved the cohort?

Baroness Goldie Portrait Baroness Goldie (Con)
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All I can do is undertake to write to the noble Viscount, because I do not have the specific detail in front of me. The consultation process ran and it was a joint process, but I will find out the specific information that he requested and write to him.

The noble Lord, Lord Coaker, helpfully indicated that this is a probing amendment, and I am very grateful to him for proposing not to press this to a Division. As I said earlier, I sense the strength of feeling, and Hansard will be testament to that strength of feeling. I give the noble Lord, Lord Alton, the assurance that through the conduit of the MoD I will indicate the desire of your Lordships for some clarity in seeing how these matters are to unfold. Therefore, while I cannot give the answers that noble Lords are no doubt impatient to receive—I sympathise with their impatience but think they will understand that I am in an impossible position in terms of providing the answers—I certainly undertake to use my offices as a Minister in MoD to see whether I can do anything to facilitate the provision of information. In these circumstances, I hope the noble Lord will withdraw his amendment.

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Baroness Smith of Newnham Portrait Baroness Smith of Newnham (LD)
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My Lords, I do not quite support this amendment but will speak in rather the same spirit as the noble Lord, Lord Coaker. From the Liberal Democrat Front Bench, in Committee, I also spoke against raising the age of recruitment, but of course that is not what this amendment seeks to do.

The debate has focused on three issues: first, the age of recruitment, which is not formally the subject of this amendment; secondly, the question of the minimum term for service, which is, officially, what is in the amendment; and, thirdly, the issue of Harrogate, which has been discussed at some length. The noble Lord, Lord Browne of Ladyton, suggested that everyone spoke in laudatory terms about Harrogate in Committee; while the noble Lord, Lord Lancaster, spoke in laudatory terms, I think the rest of us were very much looking forward to the Minister facilitating a visit, so that we could understand what happened at Harrogate a little better—although I think the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, might have visited.

There is clearly a need to separate three different issues here, one of which is how the current facility works. The sorts of cases that the noble Lord, Lord Browne of Ladyton, mentioned clearly need to be looked into. It would be very helpful if the Minister could explain what the MoD is doing to investigate the sorts of cases that are currently hitting the headlines and reassure the House that appropriate action is being taken. That needs to be separate from whether or not we believe that the age of recruitment is actually right.

However, it is important to consider the age of recruitment and what happens to 16 and 17 year-olds when we look at what is in this amendment. It may be only a probing amendment, but it is nevertheless one where we need to look at what is actually understood by “service”. It is very clear that there is a difference in the language that is used by those who oppose recruitment at 16 and the arguments against child soldiers, for example, which seems to suggest that, somehow, 16 year- olds are being allowed to go off to the front line—they are not; you cannot go to the front line until you are 18, and then only if you have been trained.

What do the Government understand by “service”? Is it that 16 and 17 year-olds can be recruited and trained, but that somehow that does not count as service for the purposes of the minimum service requirement? If that is the case, could the Government make it very clear? If Harrogate, or whatever an appropriate equivalent might be, is about training, is it seen as an appropriate alternative to continuing education in school or a further education college, which, as some of us believe and as the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, argued in Committee, can be very relevant for some 16 and 17 year-olds who want not to go back to mainstream education but to do something different? Clearly, if that is the case, what is happening for 16 and 17 year-olds needs to be appropriate.

All of us must surely agree with the comment of the noble Lord, Lord Russell, that we need to craft a recruitment policy fit for the 21st century and not the 19th century. Could the Minister reassure us that what is available is fit for the 21st century, and that what is happening at Harrogate has been investigated and we do not have anything to worry about? Can she explain to us the Government’s understanding of service that is accrued from the age of 16 to 18, inclusive?

Baroness Goldie Portrait Baroness Goldie (Con)
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My Lords, I know that you are all waiting agog for my response to what has been a wide-ranging and very interesting debate, but I am required to make a correction in relation to our previous debate on Amendment 26. I have been informed that the process that I described is slightly different. The precise fees payable are made through both the affirmative and the negative resolution procedure, which is different from what I may have read out from the speaking notes. I am pleased to put that correction on the record.

I thank the noble Lord, Lord Russell, for raising this issue, which is important and which we are all interested in. Clearly, some of your Lordships have concerns about it. As I said, it led to a very interesting debate. The essence of the amendment is that your Lordships are concerned that those who join the Armed Forces before their 18th birthday are obliged to serve longer than those who join after it.

Obviously, this is a bit of reprise of what I said in Committee, but I clarify that this is a matter not of length of service but of discharge. The statutory “discharge as of right” rules allow all new recruits, regardless of age, to discharge within their first three to six months of service, depending on their service, if they decide that the Armed Forces is not a career for them. In addition, service personnel have a statutory right to claim discharge up to their 18th birthday, subject to a maximum three-month cooling-off period. These rights are made clear to all on enlistment. Ultimately, all service personnel under the age of 18 have a statutory right to leave the Armed Forces up until their 18th birthday, without the liability to serve in the reserves, which would be the obligation on an adult aged over 18 who was leaving the services.

The noble Lord, Lord Russell, referred to a specific example, and I confess that I was not familiar with it. I understood that he referred to the RAF, but if he would care to write to me with the details, I will certainly look at that in detail.

The noble Lord, Lord Russell, was specifically concerned about the perceived unfairness to the under-18 group who serve longer than a new start of 18 years or over if they pursue a career in the Armed Forces. The noble Lord, Lord Browne, alluded to some extent to the letter I sent him in an endeavour to explain what these arrangements are about and the rationale behind them. I reiterate for the benefit of the Chamber that the policies in place covering the recruitment of young people below the age of 18 are designed carefully to be lawful, fair and fit for purpose, both for the individual and the service they volunteer to join.

The primary reason for the minimum period of service in the Army for those under 18 is that the Army must ensure that it maintains the right workforce levels to enable it to deploy personnel over the age of 18 on operations at home and abroad. Recruits under the age of 18 are not fully deployable on operations, and their notice period therefore runs from the point at which they become fully deployable alongside those who enlist after their 18th birthday. This minimum period of service for those under 18 also allows the Armed Forces to provide our young people with world-class training. It develops well-rounded junior personnel, both morally and conceptually, and, in turn, all this quite simply brings huge benefit to the individual, the Armed Forces and wider society. I feel that is positive and something that we should celebrate.

I acknowledge the recent reports of entirely unacceptable behaviour at the foundation college resulting in the conviction of an instructor, and the noble Lords, Lord Russell, Lord Browne and Lord Coaker, and the noble Baroness, Lady Smith, referred to this. That is something we all deplore. It indicates to me that there is a system which works: that if somebody behaves absolutely unacceptably in a criminal fashion, they are dealt with within the system. I do not think we should be complacent about this in any way. I was as disturbed to read that report as anyone, but it suggested to me that there are systems in place.

I think the noble Baroness, Lady Smith, particularly sought reassurance about this. I want to reassure her and your Lordships that for under-18s any reports of bullying are taken extremely seriously, and tough action is taken against those who fall short of the Army’s high standards. The duty of care for all our recruits, particularly those aged under 18, is of the utmost importance, and we recognise the need to treat under-18s differently.

The Armed Forces foundation college—

Lord Browne of Ladyton Portrait Lord Browne of Ladyton (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I am very much obliged to the noble Baroness for giving way; she is very generous. However, at this point I think it is appropriate to ask her specifically if it is true that there were 60 complaints between 2014 and 2020 from parents or trainees about bullying behaviour at AFC Harrogate. Is that true?

Baroness Goldie Portrait Baroness Goldie (Con)
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I do not have that information before me. I will certainly undertake to investigate, and I will write to the noble Lord with whatever I find out.

Lord Browne of Ladyton Portrait Lord Browne of Ladyton (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

With respect, if it is true, will the noble Baroness also express in that letter whether she is concerned that that does not appear to have been reflected in the inspections of AFC Harrogate? If it had been, I am sure the noble Baroness would have shared that when we discussed this in Committee.

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Baroness Goldie Portrait Baroness Goldie (Con)
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As I said to the noble Lord, all I can offer to do is to look at Hansard and the detail of what he said, and to check that out and see what I can ascertain. I will undertake to do that and write to him, and I will offer any comment that seems appropriate depending on what I find out.

What I was going on to say, particularly in response to the point raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Smith, is that—as the noble Lord, Lord Browne, has indicated—the foundation college, alongside all phase 1 and phase 2 training organisations, is subject to Ofsted inspection on a routine basis. Ofsted is an independent inspectorate. I and the Government have no control over what it says and does; it is for Ofsted to enter establishments, ask its questions, make its inspections and come to its conclusions.

What I can say to the noble Baroness is that the college was independently inspected by Ofsted in May 2021 as part of the 2020-21 inspection cycle into welfare and duty of care in Armed Forces initial training. Harrogate was awarded an overall grade of outstanding by Ofsted at the inspection, which followed the outstanding grade it received in October 2017. That grade was awarded due to the excellent standard of provision of duty of care and welfare encountered by Ofsted at the college.

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Knowing the Minister in the way that I do, I know she will go back and ask this. But the system needs to respond to us, to this Chamber, to this debate and to all the various points that have been made; that is what democracy is about. It is about the Chamber that represents the people speaking up for the people to the system and demanding that it change and respond to them. That is what we expect from this debate. I thank my noble friend Lord Browne again for putting the amendment and for his continued efforts with respect to this really important issue.
Baroness Goldie Portrait Baroness Goldie (Con)
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My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, is right: we have kept until the end of the day—unfortunately when few people are around—one of the best debates we have had during this stage of the Bill. I thank the noble Lords, Lord Browne and Lord Clement-Jones, and the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Craig, for tabling this amendment. I know that their interest is informed and determined, and I can tell them that it is welcome. Having debated this issue with them now on several occasions, I understand the depth of their concern in this important area. I am grateful to them for the way they have engaged with me and officials and I look forward to further engagement, for we will surely debate these issues in this House for many years to come. I say to the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, that any Government would expect to be accountable to Parliament in respect of matters of such significance.

As with so many issues relating to the rapid march of new technology, this is both complex and pressing. The Government continue to welcome the challenge and scrutiny being brought to this question, and, as I noted on previous engagements, I do not dispute the noble Lords’ analysis of the importance of proper legal consideration of novel technologies. Indeed, I attempted to access the podcast to which the noble Lord, Lord Browne, referred. I do not know whether the Chamber will be delighted or disappointed to learn that, such is the security of my MoD computer, I could not get anywhere near it, so I have still to enjoy the benefit of listening to that podcast, which I intend to do.

As I said, I know that the amendment is extremely well intended and timely, but I hope to persuade your Lordships that the proposed review is not the right means of addressing these issues. However, I assure your Lordships that the department is alert to these questions and has been working extensively on them over the course of the last 18 months. Indeed, the noble Lords, Lord Browne and Lord Clement-Jones, have been engaging with officials in the department. They might have a better understanding than most of what is taking place.

Setting a requirement for a review in law would actually risk slowing down the work needed to develop the policy, frameworks and processes needed to operate AI-enabled systems responsibly, and to address the legal risks that service personnel might otherwise face. That is an issue of profound importance and one in which the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Craig of Radley, is rightly interested.

Noble Lords will understand that I cannot set out details of the department’s position until these have been finalised, but I can assure your Lordships that work to set a clear direction of travel for defence AI, underpinned by proper policy and governance frameworks, has reached an advanced stage. The noble Lord, Lord Browne, will I am sure have a sense of where that is headed. Key to it is the defence AI strategy, which we hope to publish in early course, along with details of the approaches we will use when adopting and using AI.

These commitments, which are included in the National AI Strategy, reflect the Government’s broader commitment that the public sector should set an example through how it governs its own use of the technology. Taken together, we intend that these various publications will give a much clearer picture than is currently available, because we recognise that these are vital issues that attract a great deal of interest and we need to be as transparent and engaged as possible. I wish specifically to reassure the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, about that.

I know from their contributions, to which I listened, that noble Lords will understand that this AI strategy cannot be the last word on the subject, but I hope that, when we do publish details, your Lordships will be substantially reassured that we are on the right track, and that substantial effort and engagement will follow. There is no end to the march of technology—that is one of the reasons why we have questioned the utility of a snapshot review process—nor will there be an end to our challenge of ensuring that we do the right thing with that technology, especially where grave matters of life and death and national security are concerned.

As we undertake this work, one of our top priorities must be to develop the terminology and vocabulary necessary to ensure we illuminate, clarify and improve understanding and awareness, and to find the right way to debate these issues. This is by no means a comment on any of the discussions that we have engaged on in this House; it is more a general observation on the difficulty of debating concepts such as lethal autonomous weapon systems when there is no definition and different views are not always clearly differentiated.

Are we concerned that AI could usher in a new era of weapons which, whether controlled by a human or not, could result in devastation and atrocities? Or are we concerned at the ethical implications of a machine, rather than a human, taking decisions which result in the death of even a single human? The answer is both, but the discussion is not best served when it jumps between such disparate topics.

The MoD has to keep pace with the threats that confront this country and consider how to deal with them. When I spoke in Grand Committee, I commented, in response to the noble Baroness, Lady Smith, that context-appropriate human involvement could mean some form of real-time human supervision, which might be called “human in the loop”, or control exercised through the setting of a system’s operational parameters. The noble Lord, Lord Browne, correctly observed that some might call the latter a fully autonomous weapon. But I wonder whether they would use that term, or perhaps more importantly be concerned, if the use case they had in mind was a system mounted on a Royal Navy vessel to defend against hypersonic threats. Such a system might well be lethal—that is, capable of taking human life—but in many ways it would not be considered fully autonomous, even if it detected the threat and opened fire faster than a human could react.

We must be careful to avoid generalisations in this debate. We in the Ministry of Defence have a responsibility to ensure that our position is properly communicated. That is a responsibility we acknowledge, and I say again to the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, that it is a responsibility of which we are cognisant and about which we will be vigilant.

The crucial point, which is also the reason why this amendment is unnecessary, is that all new military capabilities are subject to a rigorous review process for compliance with international humanitarian law. Any determination as to the exercising of context-appropriate human involvement will similarly be done carefully on a specific case-by-case basis. We also adjust our operating procedures to ensure that we stay within the boundaries of the law that applies at the time.

International and domestic frameworks provide the same level of protection around the use of novel technologies as for conventional systems because their general principle is to focus on the action, rather than the tool. These frameworks therefore offer appropriate levels of protection for our personnel. We are committed to ensuring that our Armed Forces personnel have the best possible care and protection, including protection against spurious legal challenges. I think I said in Committee that, earlier this year, we acted to bolster this protection in historical cases through the overseas operations Act.

This is a fascinating and complex area. I hope my remarks provide reassurance to your Lordships that the Ministry of Defence takes these matters very seriously, is already doing all that needs to be done and is planning to be proactive in communicating its approach appropriately to Parliament and the public. On this basis, I suggest that this amendment is not needed. The noble Lord, Lord Browne, has been kind enough to indicate that he will not press it, but I hope that he and other Members of this House will remain engaged with us in the MoD, as we will remain engaged with our international partners and allies, and our own public and civil society, so that we can make rapid progress on these important and challenging questions.

Armed Forces Bill Debate

Full Debate: Read Full Debate
Department: Ministry of Defence

Armed Forces Bill

Baroness Goldie Excerpts
3rd reading
Monday 29th November 2021

(1 month, 3 weeks ago)

Lords Chamber
Read Full debate Armed Forces Act 2021 - Government Bill Page Read Hansard Text
Moved by
Baroness Goldie Portrait Baroness Goldie
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That the Bill do now pass.

Baroness Goldie Portrait The Minister of State, Ministry of Defence (Baroness Goldie) (Con)
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My Lords, it has been a great pleasure to lead the Bill through this House. It delivers on the manifesto commitment to strengthen the legislation of the Armed Forces covenant that will deliver for the Armed Forces community across the United Kingdom. It further strengthens the service justice system for our Armed Forces, wherever they serve. Most importantly, without this Bill, the Armed Forces Act 2006—the legislation that maintains the Armed Forces as a disciplined body—could not continue in force beyond the end of this year.

I therefore convey my deep gratitude to all noble Lords for supporting the Bill and for their invaluable contributions to our extremely incisive and well-informed debates. Undoubtedly, this is a marked tribute to your Lordships’ shrewdness, the depth and breadth of knowledge and the passion that has persistently shone through when debating issues affecting our Armed Forces. I particularly express my appreciation for the constructive engagement made possible by the noble Lords, Lord Coaker, Lord Tunnicliffe, Lord Thomas of Gresford and Lord Dannatt, the noble Baroness, Lady Smith of Newnham, and the noble and gallant Lords, Lord Boyce, Lord Craig of Radley and Lord Houghton of Richmond.

It is an incontestable fact that all within this House have bought into the spirit of what this Bill seeks to achieve. We all want to do the very best for our Armed Forces community, from the sailors, soldiers and aircrew at the forefront of operations around the world, to the veterans whose days of active service have long since passed, and to the families who unstintingly provide support and are the bedrock to their success. I thank your Lordships for their continuing interest in the Armed Forces.

It would be unacceptably remiss were I not to acknowledge and thank the Bill team under the formidable leadership of Jayne Scheier, supported by her able and committed colleagues. There is a lot of technical detail in the Bill, with complex legal consequences, and the team’s guidance and expertise has been exemplary—as has their patience in supporting a Minister who I am sure must have been very irksome at times.

Before I finish, I remind the House again of the undertakings I made both in Grand Committee and on Report that I will keep the House informed of progress on the recommendations of Sir Richard Henriques’s review. We expect to submit very shortly our response to the House of Commons Defence Committee’s report on women in the Armed Forces; that response is detailed and substantial. This Bill now passes from my stewardship to my colleagues in the other place—so, over to them.

Finally, I pay tribute to the courageous, professional and dedicated men and women in our Armed Forces. We are proud to have the best Armed Forces in the world and, ultimately, this Bill is for them. I beg to move that the Bill do now pass.

Lord Coaker Portrait Lord Coaker (Lab)
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My Lords, it has been a real pleasure for me to see my first Bill through your Lordships’ House on behalf of Her Majesty’s Opposition, with my noble friend Lord Tunnicliffe, who I thank for his support. It has been helped enormously by the generosity of spirit and co-operative attitude of the Minister. I sincerely thank her and her officials for the briefings and advice that we have received throughout the Bill’s passage. I also thank her sincerely for the way in which she has responded to our questions and amendments, and her commitment to reflect on the various points as policies are taken forward by the Ministry of Defence.

In that regard, I also thank the noble Baroness, Lady Smith of Newnham, and her colleagues, notably the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford, for their collegiate approach, which has helped us all scrutinise the Bill more effectively. I also thank the noble and learned Lord, Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd. Thanks to him, I now understand terms such as “concurrent jurisdiction”. Throughout the Bill, advice from my noble friends Lord West and Lord Reid was gratefully received, as was the tireless and impressive work of Dan Harris, our adviser. It was also a privilege to have my noble and learned friend Lord Morris and my noble friends Lord Browne and Lord Robertson alongside me. Their expertise and experience is a huge asset to our country, as is the active involvement of many noble and gallant Lords, some present here this afternoon. We hope that the Government will further consider the amendments that we have passed back to the other place, which are intended not to undermine the Bill but merely to improve it, and that they will reflect and think again.

We are all united by admiration for our Armed Forces and the service they give to our country. We know that we depend on them to defend our democracy and values at home and across the world, with our allies. We know that those values are likely to be tested again and again over the coming years and decades. The Bill, soon to be an Act, is part of the contract we make as our duty of care for them and their families, and we as Her Majesty’s Official Opposition have been proud to support it.

Lord Craig of Radley Portrait Lord Craig of Radley (CB)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, as one of the sponsors of a number of amendments, I have added to the work of the Minister and her Bill team. I add my thanks to her for the way she has dealt with them. The Bill team, having been faced with a very large number of late government amendments, have done a magnificent job; Jayne Scheier and all of them ought to be thanked very much for that effort. I hope that the Minister will not forget that I mentioned the Hong Kong veterans and have yet to have a decent reply about that. The issue has been outstanding for 35 years, so it is about time it was dealt with.

I hope, too, that the amendments we have sent back to the other place will be accepted. Time is short, Covid threatens and it would be sensible if the Government avoided ping-ponging it in this direction again. I thank the Minister very much for all that she has done on this Bill.

Baroness Goldie Portrait Baroness Goldie (Con)
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I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Smith, and noble Lords across the Chamber for their contributions. They reflect what I said in my remarks: we are all united in our admiration for, and desire to support, our Armed Forces. I thank noble Lords for these helpful and constructive comments.

Bill passed and returned to the Commons with amendments.

Armed Forces Bill Debate

Full Debate: Read Full Debate
Department: Ministry of Defence

Armed Forces Bill

Baroness Goldie Excerpts
Consideration of Commons amendments
Wednesday 8th December 2021

(1 month, 2 weeks ago)

Lords Chamber
Read Full debate Armed Forces Act 2021 - Government Bill Page Read Hansard Text
Moved by
Baroness Goldie Portrait Baroness Goldie
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That this House do not insist on its Amendment 1, to which the Commons have disagreed for their Reason 1A.

1A: Because a presumption in favour of the offences in question being heard in the civilian courts is not necessary or justified.
Baroness Goldie Portrait The Minister of State, Ministry of Defence (Baroness Goldie) (Con)
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My Lords, with the leave of the House, in moving Motion A I will address Motion A1, and then Motions B and B1. Obviously there will be a certain element of déjà vu in my remarks but I shall do my best to explain once again why the Government hold to the view they do on these issues.

Over the last 20 years, the service justice system has gone through many changes and been transformed for the better as a result of them. There have been numerous reviews and inquiries, some as a consequence of operations, but all of which have enabled the service justice system to develop and improve. It is no longer recognisable as the system existing 10 to 15 years ago with which many of your Lordships were familiar.

The service police, prosecutors and judiciary are fully independent and trained. They are skilled and have the experience to deal with all offending to the same standard as their counterparts in the civilian criminal justice system. In particular, prosecutors are trained for rape and serious sexual offences, and judges/judge advocates are “ticketed” to deal with particular offences. Our code of practice for victims reflects the same principles as that for civilians and we use many of the same arrangements as in the civilian justice system, such as special measures for vulnerable witnesses. Any visitor to a court martial centre will find it remarkably similar to any Crown Court in England and Wales. In fact, in some areas the court martial is ahead of the civilian system, such as in the use of video links. It is for these reasons that the service justice system is legitimately positioned as an alternative jurisdiction to the civilian criminal justice system in respect of any criminal offence in the UK.

The recently published review by the retired High Court judge Sir Richard Henriques QC and the earlier Service Justice System Review by His Honour Shaun Lyons both strongly supported the continued existence of the service justice system. Sir Richard fully agreed with the Government’s decision to retain unqualified concurrent jurisdiction for murder, manslaughter and rape. He recommended a number of proposals to further strengthen the service justice system so that it has the best expertise and capacity to deal with all crimes. We have prioritised his recommendation of creating a defence serious crime unit, headed by a new provost marshal for serious crime in the Bill. This is a major development for the service justice system and it demonstrates the Government’s commitment to achieving the highest investigative capabilities within it. The new unit will play a key role in our strategy to drive up conviction rates.

I know we all have a common aim, which is to ensure that every case is heard in the most appropriate jurisdiction. We also agree that in the event of disagreement about jurisdiction, a civilian prosecutor should have the final say. However, we maintain that rather than involving the Attorney-General as set out in this amendment and creating an in-built bias towards the civilian jurisdiction, a better approach is to strengthen the prosecutors’ protocols and clarify the role of the prosecutors—civilian and service—in decision-making on concurrent jurisdiction.

The service justice system cannot be half a justice system or a partial justice system. It has to handle all crimes committed by service personnel outside the UK. It makes sense for it to continue to be able to handle all crimes in the UK. In the UK, this will be subject to the operation of the prosecution protocols in respect of which the view of the civilian prosecutor, as I said, will prevail.

Just for the avoidance of doubt, I take this opportunity to reassure the House that the proposal in this Bill is not about increasing the number of serious cases to be dealt with by the service justice system; it will continue to be the case that a victim can choose whether to report a criminal offence to the service or the civilian police. Our proposal simply maintains the principle that both jurisdictions are capable of dealing with all offending, and asserts that qualified and experienced prosecutors are best placed to make decisions where there is concurrent jurisdiction. Removing crimes from the competence of the service justice system or introducing a presumption in favour of the civilian system for serious crimes, as in this amendment, inevitably calls into question the integrity of the service justice system, raising a perception by victims, witnesses, service personnel and the public that the service justice system is deficient. That is unacceptable to the Government. That weakening and fracture of the service justice system is impossible for them to defend.

Let me now address conviction rates in the service justice system for sexual offences, in particular for the offence of rape, because this is clearly important. In his report, Sir Richard Henriques makes the point at page 201 that the comparison of conviction rates between the service and civilian justice systems overlooks the fact that the service police refer, and the Service Prosecuting Authority prosecutes, cases that would have been discontinued in the civilian system.

The number of rape cases prosecuted in the civilian system stands at between 1.6% and 3% of those reported to Home Office police forces. The Crown Prosecution Service has announced an action plan to address this disparity. Noble Lords will recall that the Government are also working on a new strategy for the service justice system when dealing with cases of rape and other serious sexual assaults. In the service justice system, 55% of rape investigations carried out by the service police in the period from 2017 to 2019 led to a referral to the Service Prosecuting Authority, and 27% of rape investigations led to a suspect being charged. In 2020, 50% of rape investigations by the service police led to charges and prosecution. Viewed as a proportion of allegations reported, rather than of cases prosecuted, the conviction rate in the service justice system is around 8% compared to around 2% in the civilian system. Let me be clear that this rate is still too low but should not be used as a reason for departing from the current principle of concurrent jurisdiction. Your Lordships may be interested to know that more recent data about cases of rape prosecuted at the court martial in the last six months show a conviction rate of just under 50%. Clearly, the service justice system is capable of investigating and prosecuting these cases.

I now wish to turn to specific details of the amendment, parts of the text of which cause concern. It seeks to introduce a consultation role for the Attorney-General in England and Wales only. The service justice system applies across the whole UK. That is why there is provision in the Bill for three separate protocols to ensure that the same approach is taken across the three legal jurisdictions of England and Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. As it stands, the application of the amendment to only England and Wales rather than the whole UK means that cases involving service personnel in those parts of the country would be handled differently from cases handled in Scotland or Northern Ireland. The amendment is unsuitable to be extended to Scotland or Northern Ireland. Consultation with the Attorney-General for England and Wales on prosecutorial decisions is entirely inappropriate for the devolved Administrations. For example, the independence of the Lord Advocate as head of the system of criminal prosecution and investigation of deaths in Scotland means that decisions are taken independently of any other person, and this includes not being subject to guidance or direction of another officeholder. It is my understanding that the Lord Advocate would be concerned about any extension of the proposed approach to Scotland.

Finally, I say with the greatest respect that it is not entirely clear to the Government what is meant by the condition of “naval or military complexity”, and how that will be defined, by whom and how it should be interpreted. This approach will lead to confusion and a lack of clarity about how and when the Attorney-General for England and Wales should be consulted.

On the other hand, Clause 7 of the Bill ensures that decisions on jurisdiction are left to the independent service justice prosecutors across the UK, and their respective civilian prosecutors, using guidance that they have agreed between them that will, no doubt, address the military dimension to be considered. Once in place, this new statutory guidance will be used to revise existing protocols between the service and the civilian police to bring much-needed clarity at all levels on how decisions on jurisdiction are made.

The Bill also makes it clear that where there is a disagreement on jurisdiction, the civilian prosecutor—be it the Director of Public Prosecutions for England and Wales, the Lord Advocate or the Director of Public Prosecutions for Northern Ireland—always has the final say. So the service justice system prosecutor cannot ignore the civilian prosecutor and railroad cases through the service justice system. In this way, the Government’s approach not only provides a solution which works UK-wide but provides ample safeguards to ensure that civilian prosecutors are involved and cases are dealt with in the most appropriate jurisdiction.

In these circumstances, I beg to move Motion A in my name, and I urge the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford, not to press his Motion A1.

I will now move on to Motions B and B1, in relation to the Armed Forces covenant. The covenant is described as:

“An Enduring Covenant Between the People of the United Kingdom, Her Majesty’s Government and All those who serve or have served in the Armed Forces of the Crown and their Families.”


The covenant was rebuilt a decade ago during a time, like today, of great pressure on the Armed Forces community, and has since been delivered in a highly successful manner, because it captures the appreciation and support for the sacrifices of that community of people from every walk of life across the United Kingdom.

This embodies the spirit of the covenant, which of itself is not a legal obligation, and nor should it be. But that is not to say that legislation has not been important in helping its delivery. That began with the obligation on the Secretary of State for Defence to report to Parliament annually on how service life impacts on the lives of servicepeople and former servicepeople. By working with our service providers and key stakeholder groups, from this one measure the covenant has evolved into one of the key drivers of welfare support to our Armed Forces community today. We are now taking the next step to promote and further strengthen the legal basis of the covenant, as we committed, which is why we are taking forward the provisions in this Bill.

Ensuring that key policymakers have the right information about the Armed Forces community and are therefore better able to make the right decisions for their local populations has been fundamental to our current success. Building on this foundation, the new duty will therefore oblige specified public bodies exercising a relevant healthcare, education or housing function to pay due regard to the three principles of the covenant. We see this as a sure and effective way of raising awareness among providers of public services of how service life can disadvantage the Armed Forces community, thereby encouraging a more consistent approach around the country.

However, these provisions are breaking new ground, and it is important that we see how they work in practice so that we both establish an evidence base and allow time for review and assessment to inform future enlargement of this obligation to any new bodies or functions. The provisions in the Bill will allow that enlargement more easily by granting the Secretary of State the power to add to the scope of the duty through regulations, without the need to wait for another Armed Forces Bill.

I have already outlined in this place the work we are undertaking with covenant reference group stakeholders to establish a process to help the Secretary of State to identify and assess functions that it would be beneficial to add to the scope of the duty, including those that are the responsibility of central government. This process will feed into our existing commitment to review the overall performance of the covenant duty as part of our post-legislative scrutiny.

I remind your Lordships of the current legal obligation on the Government to annually prepare and lay an Armed Forces covenant report. In the preparation of the annual report, the Secretary of State must have regard to the three principles of the covenant. He must obtain the views of relevant government departments and devolved Administrations in relation to the effects on servicepeople covered by the report. He must state in the report his assessment of whether servicepeople are facing disadvantage and, importantly, where he is of the opinion that there is disadvantage, what his response is to that, including consideration of whether the making of special provision would be justified. This means in essence that covenant delivery at a national level remains under continual review and, far from avoiding responsibility, demonstrates how this Government are committed to ensuring that the needs of the Armed Forces community are identified so that action can be taken.

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Lord Thomas of Gresford Portrait Lord Thomas of Gresford (LD)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, I will start with a quotation. In the Ministry of Defence

“there is one individual who is refusing to back down from the alleyway he has found himself in.”—[Official Report, Commons, 6/12/21; col. 105.]

Those are the words of the former Defence Minister Johnny Mercer, speaking in the debate in the other place on Monday night, on the amendment that we sent. He had earlier said:

“Unfortunately, I was in the room when this decision was made. The evidence did not support the Secretary of State at the time and the evidence does not support the Secretary of State today. I cannot vote against the Lords amendment; it is not the right thing to do. Let me be clear: when the Secretary of State made that decision”—


the issue that we are discussing today—

“it was against the advice of the officials in the Department and against the advice of his Ministers.”—[Official Report, Commons, 6/12/21; col. 104.]

Unusually, the veil is lifted. Mr Mercer clearly identifies Mr Ben Wallace, the Secretary of State for Defence, as the man in the alleyway who, against the advice of his officials and his Ministers, persists in resisting this amendment. The Minister knows that I have always assumed that she would not, in her personal capacity, back the Government’s position—but now we have direct evidence from Mr Mercer, her former colleague.

I could leave it at that. I could await the storm of protest from victims whose cases are dismissed at court martial, who will come forward brandishing the Judge Lyons review and the recommendations, after considerable investigation, contained in Sarah Atherton’s report, published last July, to which I have referred at every stage—Sarah Atherton being the only Conservative Member of Parliament ever for Wrexham.

I doubt that the controversy when those protests are made will improve Mr Wallace’s or the Government’s standing with the public on the highly sensitive issue of sexual offences, but I have a deep concern that the reputation of the service justice system in the UK should not be sullied.

On Monday afternoon, I took part in an international forum organised by my friend Professor Eugene Fidell of Yale University, founder and former president of the National Institute of Military Justice in the United States. The forum meets regularly. On this occasion, we considered the way that sexual offences are dealt with in the Canadian military. This is a live issue in many jurisdictions. I had hoped that the United Kingdom would show the way, but I will remind the House of some of the UK statistics that were before the other place.

The Atherton committee interviewed many in search of evidence. Some 64% of the more than 4,000 service- women who submitted evidence to the committee stated that they had experienced sexual harassment, rape, bullying or discrimination while serving in the Armed Forces. Over the past five years, the average conviction rate for rape in civilian courts, from Ministry of Justice data, is 34%. Over the same five years, from using the data of the MoD, it is just 16%. The Minister told us that it was 15% for courts martial over the last six months. If you use Crown Prosecution Service data, the figures are even worse.

Baroness Goldie Portrait Baroness Goldie (Con)
- Hansard - -

I thank the noble Lord for taking this point of correction. The statistic I gave him for cases of rape prosecuted in courts martial in the last six months shows a conviction rate of just under 50%.

Lord Thomas of Gresford Portrait Lord Thomas of Gresford (LD)
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Obviously, I misheard the noble Baroness. I will continue. As I said on Report, I am not aware of any murders committed in the UK by service personnel that have been tried by court martial. Of course, that could have happened only since 2006, when the novel change to concurrent jurisdiction was introduced. I have noted two cases of manslaughter arising from deaths at the Castlemartin range in west Wales, in live firing exercises, which involved the organisation of training activities, but I am not aware of any trials of sexual offences at court martial in the UK where the victim was a civilian. If there were any, I shudder to think of the effect on a civilian complainant of giving her evidence in intimate detail, against a serviceman, to a panel of uniformed officers, at a court martial.

Until now, the verdict of a court martial in such a case would have been by a simple majority, but I welcome the changes in this Bill that lead to a different situation. Imagine the difficulty of a junior service woman or man making a complaint of rape to her or his commanding officer, particularly if the alleged offender is senior to them in the chain of command, as is often the case. In addition to all the stresses and strains that already dissuade many women in civilian life from complaining, she, a servicewoman, has to face the effect on her career, an appearance before a board of senior officers, very low chances of conviction and the possibility that, in the event of an acquittal, the terms of her service will keep her in contact with her attacker. At least in a civilian court, the jury, to whom she would give her sensitive and difficult evidence, is 12 anonymous people drawn from the public. They will have no effect on her career and she is most unlikely ever to see them again—contrast that with giving evidence of sexual offences before a court martial.

Sir Robert Neill, with all his experience and wisdom, pointed out in the other place on Monday that the normal safeguards that apply in these cases in civilian courts are not yet available in the courts martial, in both the investigatory and procedural stages. Again, I draw the Minister’s attention to the effect upon the recruitment and retention of women in the Armed Forces. Would you expose your daughter to the probability that she will be subject to sexual harassment and worse, without the protection of a satisfactory service justice system?

I listened to the debate in the other place, and my amendment in lieu has changes. Objection was made to the role ascribed to the Attorney-General. The Minister has made a similar objection in this House, and I have to admit that I had assumed that the Ministry of Defence and the Members in another place appreciated the constitutional position of the Attorney-General. It is one of his functions to supervise the Director of Public Prosecutions and the Director of Service Prosecutions and to be answerable in Parliament for them and their decisions. Hence it was Judge Lyons’ recommendation that the AG’s consent should be sought for the trial by a court martial of murder, manslaughter, rape and serious sexual offences committed in the UK. I agreed with his position: it represents the correct status of the Attorney-General in this country.

However, if the consent of the Attorney-General is the problem, this amendment in lieu leaves decisions about trial venue in the hands of the Director of Public Prosecutions—but only after consultation with the Attorney-General. The DPP would naturally consult the DSP, but, as the Minister, Mr Leo Docherty, made clear on Monday evening, it is the DPP’s decision in the end.

I say to the Conservative Benches that, if they vote against my amendment, they would be voting merely for the stubborn man in the alleyway, in Johnny Mercer’s words. They would be voting against the views of the officials in the Ministry of Defence and the departmental Ministers at the time that this was first considered, against the leading recommendation—number 1—of Judge Lyons and, above all, against the passionate findings of the Conservative Member of Parliament and her cross-party committee. Sarah Atherton—the only women in history to have risen from the ranks of the Armed Forces to become a Member of the House of Commons—knows what she is talking about. I ask those opposite not to vote against this amendment. I beg to move.

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Baroness Goldie Portrait Baroness Goldie (Con)
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My Lords, first, I thank your Lordships for, as ever, interesting and thoughtful contributions on both issues being debated this afternoon, particularly Motions A1 and B1. I will first address the comments made in relation to Motion A1. By way of preface, it is worth noting that this matter was debated and decided in the other place by an authoritative and substantial majority. Notwithstanding that, I will endeavour in my remarks to engage your Lordships and repeat why the Government hold to the position they do. I am grateful for the further comments made.

Perhaps I should clarify to the noble Lord, Lord Thomas, who seemed to doubt my commitment to the matters of the service justice system, that I and the Government are convinced of the wisdom of retaining unqualified concurrent jurisdiction for murder, manslaughter and rape—I want to make that crystal clear. I remind your Lordships that, contrary to what some contributions indicated, that view is supported by a distinguished former High Court judge, Sir Richard Henriques.

I was also interested to note that remarks from a number of your Lordships with very senior and impressive legal backgrounds seemed to be addressed exclusively to England and Wales. With all respect, the service justice system that we all admire and revere has to extend across the whole of the UK and must reflect the different systems within it. Military justice must be universal across the UK and the proposal in the Bill achieves that end in a way in which the noble Lord’s amendment does not.

Lord Thomas of Gresford Portrait Lord Thomas of Gresford (LD)
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Perhaps I might challenge the Minister on that. If the civil jurisdiction is to be used for an offence committed in Scotland or Northern Ireland, court martials then become immaterial—so there is no problem, as the Minister seems to think. This point has not been raised at any stage of the Bill until today. There is no problem if the ordinary courts of Scotland and Northern Ireland are to deal with offences which occur within that jurisdiction. The question of whether a person is in the military or not is then irrelevant; the offences will be dealt with as usual.

Baroness Goldie Portrait Baroness Goldie (Con)
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Yes, but with all respect, I say to the noble Lord that that is not the essence of the issue. The essence is instead how you create a service justice system which can operate across the United Kingdom and ensure that, when discussions take place with the appropriate civilian prosecutors, appropriate decisions are reached on the correct jurisdiction for the case. That might be, within the service justice system, convening in Scotland, but under the noble Lord’s amendment there is clearly a desire to bias the whole service justice system in respect of England and Wales to the civilian system, and I am saying that that introduces a disparity or fracture of the United Kingdom service justice system. That is what the Government find unacceptable.

The noble Lord, Lord Burnett, raised an important point—

Lord Morris of Aberavon Portrait Lord Morris of Aberavon (Lab)
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If there is any technical difficulty regarding the extension of the jurisdiction to include Northern Ireland and Scotland, surely it would not be beyond the wit of the Government, if they accepted the principle of civilianisation, to deal with that matter in an appropriate way.

Baroness Goldie Portrait Baroness Goldie (Con)
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I say to the noble and learned Lord that, as I understand it, the difficulty is that constitutionally we cannot extend this amendment to cover Scotland and Northern Ireland. That gets right to the heart of whether we have a service justice system for the United Kingdom, operating across it, or we do not. That is the difficulty with this amendment.

Turning to the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Burnett, on the Richard Henriques recommendations, I know he was particularly interested in a defence representation unit. In recognition of the remarks I made in Grand Committee when I undertook to keep the House informed of progress on these Henriques matters, I explained then and when the amendment was tabled on Report that we have to analyse and assess these recommendations. We are not yet sure how they could be implemented and what measures would be necessary to implement them, but I am very happy to repeat my assurance to the noble Lord that I will keep the Chamber informed of progress.

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Lord Craig of Radley Portrait Lord Craig of Radley (CB)
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Before the Minister sits down, the big issue that came from this House is where local authorities cannot deal with the veteran issue. We produced some examples of that; it was not discussed at all in the other place. Could she explain why? This is not acceptable at this stage, bearing in mind that, in effect, it is already being carried out. I do not see why there should be any difficulty in incorporating the Secretary of State “having due regard” as the form of words, to show that it is a matter for central government. The veteran issue cannot be dealt with at local level.

Baroness Goldie Portrait Baroness Goldie (Con)
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Central government, as I have indicated previously, is bound by a wide spectrum of obligations. Some of these obligations exist because of parliamentary and government obligations, some exist because the MoD is an employer of the Armed Forces, and some exist because, under the covenant—which is a concept, as I have said—we want to do the best we can.

What I did explain was that to make this work—I hope it is clear from the text of the Bill in relation to the three functions we have identified—you need to have an identified body and detailed functions. That is why the Government feel that it is premature to take this step at this time. I appreciate that the noble and gallant Lord disagrees with that interpretation. He feels that the Government should absolutely accept that they are bound under the covenant. I would say that they are bound under the covenant as a concept in terms of a moral responsibility, and they are certainly accountable not just to Parliament, as they rightly should be, but to their own Armed Forces and to their veterans, and to public opinion.

I have tried to explain why we feel that to take this step at this stage is both precipitate and premature. I appreciate that there is not agreement on that view, and that is what democracy exists to serve. But I have endeavoured to explain to your Lordships the position of the Government and why they hold to their views in these circumstances. Again, I respectfully ask the noble Lords to withdraw their Motions A1 and B1.

Lord Morris of Aberavon Portrait Lord Morris of Aberavon (Lab)
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Before the Minister sits down—I hope she will forgive me—I asked specifically about the size of the sample for rape cases, an issue which my noble friend Lord Coaker also raised. The figures are quite different and much more encouraging than those given by Mr Johnny Mercer in the other place. Can the Minister tell me—I did give notice of this in the course of my short remarks—what is the size of the sample?

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Baroness Goldie Portrait Baroness Goldie (Con)
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I have to say to the noble and learned Lord that I am afraid I do not have information available. I gave him the statistics provided to me, but I will undertake to ascertain that information and write to him.

Lord Thomas of Gresford Portrait Lord Thomas of Gresford (LD)
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My Lords, I will pursue that for a moment. The number of cases heard in courts martial is probably fewer than 10 for sexual offences, or at least fewer than 20. I cannot imagine that in six months, we deal with more than four or five cases, but no doubt we will be told in due course. Over a five-year period, the figure is 16% for convictions, as opposed to the civil conviction rate of 34%—shocking as that conviction rate is in any event.

On the point about Scotland and Northern Ireland—never raised before Monday night in the course of this Bill, either here or in the other place—the principle that this amendment sets down is quite simple:

“Guidance … must provide that where offences of murder, manslaughter, domestic violence, child abuse, rape or sexual assault with penetration are alleged to have been committed in the United Kingdom, any charges brought against a person subject to service law shall normally be tried in a civilian court”—


it does not say “in the Crown Court” in this country—

“unless by reason of the circumstances … the Director of Public Prosecutions, after consultation with the Attorney General, directs trial by court martial.”

If it is necessary to cover that by putting “after consultation with the Lord Advocate in Scotland” or whoever is the chief authority in Northern Ireland, that can be done in 30 seconds—if you let me loose for that period of time.

No answer has been given, and we are faced with what Johnny Mercer said:

“there is one individual who is refusing to back down from the alleyway”.—[Official Report, Commons, 6/12/21; col. 105.]

This is not proper policy for the Conservative Party. It will face, as a party, the complaints of people who have been subjected to sexual violence but whose cases have not been upheld. It will arise, and it will be to the advantage of other parties. So, I plead that the amendment be supported in this case. I beg to move.

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Moved by
Baroness Goldie Portrait Baroness Goldie
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That this House do not insist on its Amendment 2, to which the Commons have disagreed for their Reason 2A.

2A: Because the Commons do not consider the addition of the Secretary of State as a specified person to be necessary to address any disparity in the delivery of core services across the United Kingdom, or otherwise to achieve the aims of the Bill.
Baroness Goldie Portrait Baroness Goldie (Con)
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I beg to move.

Motion B1 (as an amendment to Motion B)

Moved by

Armed Forces Bill Debate

Full Debate: Read Full Debate
Department: Ministry of Defence

Armed Forces Bill

Baroness Goldie Excerpts
Consideration of Commons amendments
Tuesday 14th December 2021

(1 month, 1 week ago)

Lords Chamber
Read Full debate Armed Forces Act 2021 - Government Bill Page Read Hansard Text
Moved by
Baroness Goldie Portrait Baroness Goldie
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That this House do not insist on its Amendment 1B, to which the Commons have disagreed for their Reason 1C.

1C: Because a presumption in favour of the offences in question being heard in the civilian courts is not necessary or justified.
Baroness Goldie Portrait The Minister of State, Ministry of Defence (Baroness Goldie) (Con)
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My Lords, with the leave of the House I will speak also to Motion B.

Your Lordships will understand that the Bill is essential. It must pass this week or the Armed Forces Act 2006 will cease to have effect. As my honourable friend Mr Leo Docherty, the Minister in the other place, made clear yesterday, we have been listening to the concerns of noble Lords and honourable Members and the Government have responded to them. We recognise that all Members of this House want to do the best they can for our Armed Forces and to support them in the vital role that they play.

I turn first to the views put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford. I think we all agree that criminal wrongdoing must be robustly and swiftly addressed for the sake of our service personnel and for the victims of crime. We respectfully maintain that the provisions in the Bill will meet these concerns. They will require civilian prosecutors across the United Kingdom to agree with the Director of Service Prosecutions protocols for determining in which jurisdiction cases should be heard. The Bill provides that civilian prosecutors will always have the final say on the choice of jurisdiction under those protocols.

The Government therefore agree that civilian prosecutors should be able to decide whether a case proceeds in the service or civilian jurisdiction. However, we are unable to agree that a role for the Attorney-General is needed, and we consider that it is wrong for there to be an explicit and inbuilt bias towards one system or the other. Each system is and should be capable of dealing with all types of offending, with decisions made by prosecutors on a case-by-case basis. The service justice system will be dealing with all offences when they occur overseas, and it really makes no sense to truncate our capability in this area and create the very real risk that the system could be seen as second class if serious offences such as rape and serious sexual assault can be dealt with in the service justice system overseas but not in the United Kingdom.

There was some discussion in this House last week about the implications of this amendment for Scotland and Northern Ireland. The earlier amendment applied only to England and Wales, giving the role of authorising a service justice prosecution to the Director of Public Prosecutions after consulting the Attorney-General. The latest amendment retains that feature but creates rules for Scotland and Northern Ireland, giving the authorising function to the Lord Advocate in Scotland and the Director of Public Prosecutions for Northern Ireland.

Let me be clear that this formulation remains unacceptable to the Government. As I have said, the provisions of the Bill already give the final say on jurisdiction to the civilian prosecutors: the Director of Public Prosecutions, the Lord Advocate, and the Director of Public Prosecutions for Northern Ireland. Our objection remains to any involvement of the Attorney-General or Attorney-General for Northern Ireland and to any inbuilt bias towards either system, for the reasons which I have explained.

We recognise, however, that we could increase confidence in the service justice system by being more open and transparent about the cases that the system is dealing with. This is why a specific commitment was given in the other place yesterday to improve our annual statistical update on offences contrary to the Sexual Offences Act 2003 and historic sexual offences dealt with in the service justice system to include other serious offences. Our bulletin in spring 2022, published on the GOV.UK website, will, in addition to reporting on rape statistics, now include granular data on cases of murder and manslaughter, and for sexual offending those cases involving personnel serving in the Armed Forces who are under 18 at the time of the offence. Furthermore, from January 2022, we will start to record separately information about domestic violence and child sexual abuse offences in the service justice system so that these too can be reported in our spring 2023 bulletin.

Greater reporting will enable the Government to be held to account and to transparently monitor the health of the service justice system so we can make adjustments and improvements where necessary. We know of course that the service justice system deals with a significantly lower number of cases than the civilian system and that small variances in the data can produce seemingly large swings in performance when expressed as percentages. However, low case numbers aside, the service justice system has trained police investigators, prosecutors and judges who are experienced and capable of dealing with the serious offences which are of concern here. We are strengthening and improving investigative capability through the defence serious crime unit.

I now turn to the views of the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Craig, on the need for a report to be laid within six months of this Bill receiving Royal Assent, setting out the implications of not applying a new covenant duty to central government. I appreciate the sincere desire that lies behind the original amendment. As the Minister explained in the other place yesterday, the Government have already committed to reviewing the operation of the covenant duty to indicate whether other policy areas or functions could be usefully included. We have listened carefully to the views expressed in both Houses and, recognising the strength of feeling across both, the Government have now committed to going further and have set out in clear terms how such a review will occur. I am pleased to repeat these clear terms, to share that commitment, and to set out as follows how we see such a review progressing.

The review will encompass the operation of the new duty across the UK, going further than your Lordships’ proposals, and it will consider whether it would be beneficial to exercise any of the powers conferred by this Bill to add to its scope. This will include specific consideration of whether central government and any of its functions could usefully be added. The Government will report on the review as part of the covenant annual report in 2023, 18 months after the new duty is expected to come into effect. This timescale is more realistic than the six-month timeline from Royal Assent suggested by your Lordships, which is too short a period for any meaningful review to take place.

Once the Bill is passed, elements of the new duty, such as the statutory guidance, will require further statutory consultation and parliamentary scrutiny. We expect to see the new duty standing up in law by the middle of 2022 at the earliest, which is around the time that your Lordships’ amendment would have required a report. We also need to allow for an implementation period to give local authorities time to adjust to their new responsibilities. Therefore, to conclude and publish the review at the 18-month point of the new duty having been in operation is most appropriate.

Recognising the level of interest in this new duty, we will provide an update in the covenant annual report in December 2022, some six months after the duty is expected to come into effect. We will be able to say more at this point about the scope and methodology for conducting the review, and Members of Parliament will have the opportunity to assess and comment in the 2022 covenant report debate. We are committed to ensuring that parliamentarians from both Houses can contribute and give their views as part of the review process.

I have sought to reassure this House where I have been able to do so. We are up against time, the Bill must pass, and I urge noble Lords to support the Government. I beg to move.

Motion A1 (as an amendment to Motion A)

Moved by
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Lord Coaker Portrait Lord Coaker (Lab)
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My Lords, let me say once again that Her Majesty’s Opposition support the Bill; we have sought only to challenge the Government to improve it. I believe that, including today, it has been a very good debate in your Lordships’ House, with important contributions from all parts of the Chamber. As we have seen, this has led to many important clarifications and further commitments from the Government. In this, the House has been helped by the approach of the Minister, who has been both engaging and constructive in the work that she has done.

We accept the Government’s Motions A and B as sent back to the House today, but we remain determined to hold the Government to account as we go forward, ensuring that commitments made on the record—both in this House and in the other place—are indeed met. We remain disappointed that the Government have not agreed to Motion A1 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford, which we have supported all along.

We will want to test the Government on the commitments that they have made on transparency. Leo Docherty MP talked about all sorts of statistics, which were now to be used by the Government to enhance transparency with respect to serious violence, serious sexual violence, the recording of sexual offences against under-18s and so on—and these will be included in the annual report. When reporting those statistics, however, what will happen if problems remain despite the Government’s belief that the service justice system, as it is to be constituted, will improve the situation? What if the situation does not change? Will that be the time, perhaps, for the Government to consider Motion A1 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford, supported by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd, and my noble and learned friend Lord Morris of Aberavon? It would be helpful if the Minister could say how the Government will judge the statistics that they are committed to publishing with respect to dealing with sexual violence and sexual offences within the criminal justice system.

I turn to the amendment in the name of the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Craig, and, much as he has done, welcome the changes and further commitments that the Government have made on reporting with respect to the covenant, its scope and its extension to government—so that government itself must have due regard to it—with the first annual report to be published in 2023, and an interim report in 2022. We welcome that, but what happens if these reports show that change is needed, and how will they be reported to Parliament?

We believe that the Government have moved forward, making concessions and additional commitments. We thank the Minister for ensuring that the debate has taken place and has been used to inform decisions in the Ministry of Defence; I am sure that all your Lordships welcome that. However, as the Minister knows, serious questions remain around the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford. We look forward to seeing how these will be dealt with as we go forward.

It would not be appropriate for us to allow the Bill to pass today without once again praising the bravery and professionalism of our Armed Forces. As well as their duty abroad, they are once again to be called upon to help in the fight against the pandemic. Whatever discussions and debates we have, they should know that this Chamber, and all your Lordships, recognise that duty and service as we pass this Bill. We will never, and should never, take that for granted.

Baroness Goldie Portrait Baroness Goldie (Con)
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My Lords, I start by echoing the sentiments of the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, because throughout the Bill’s progress in this House, we have genuinely had well-informed debates which have been extremely helpful in the scrutiny of the legislation. I again pay tribute to all who have facilitated that positive review of it. I also thank the noble Lord for his kind remarks.

Let me try to deal with some of the points which have arisen. In relation to the service justice system, there was a sense of reprise of previously presented arguments. I know they were presented in good faith. Some have now been addressed by the Government, but, as your Lordships will be aware, others they reject. We have a fundamental point of principle here, which is that some of your Lordships feel that there should be a bias and an explicit tilt towards the civilian system, while the Government are not convinced that that is in the interests of the service justice system or of those who would have to use it. What matters is that the service justice system is robust, which it is, and this Bill introduces many improvements to it.

I do not want to bore your Lordships by repeating the arguments I have previously adduced as to why the Government support the approach of concurrency of jurisdiction. I simply observe that trial by jury is not a part of the service justice system, but we require a system which works both overseas and across the United Kingdom, is professional and has capability and capacity. That is what this Bill provides.

The noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford, asked me specifically about publishing the detail of the protocols. I would direct him to Clause 7, creating a new Section 320A, and to subsection (8) of that, which directs that the current version of the protocol must be published in whatever manner the directors think appropriate.

I thank the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Craig of Radley, for his kind remarks and his acknowledgement of the Government’s willingness to hear his concerns and to seek to address them. I am not a position to deal with the specific point that he raised, but he will know that announcements are likely in the near future.

The noble Lord, Lord Coaker, raised two issues. He asked what would happen if the publication of the more detailed data and statistics for the service justice system caused concern. I said that we are very clear as a Government that that additional data will help to inform us as to where we may need to make adjustments or where improvements may be necessary if issues arise which occasion concern.

On the covenant, the noble Lord asked a similarly aligned question about the reports: what if they suggest that the positive progress we all want is not being made as effectively as we would hope? First, that will inform the Government, but, secondly, as his honourable friend in the other place said, it is the job of opposition to hold the Government to account and to scrutinise. I absolutely agree with that; that is what the Opposition exist to do. I know that the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, is an exemplar of holding me as a Defence Minister to account, and I am sure that formidable and tenacious approach will continue.

What this Bill and our debates are all about, and what we try to do in improving this legislation, is of course for the benefit of our Armed Forces. All of us are very conscious not only of what they have done over time, of the sacrifices they make and of the commitment they give, but, perhaps very particularly at this time, of the extraordinary support they have been giving to the country during the pandemic. I know that your Lordships will want on behalf of this Chamber to express our unqualified appreciation—

Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd Portrait Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd (CB)
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Before the Minister sits down, I would be grateful if she could write at some point saying why trial by jury is not being conceded for members of the Armed Forces. It may require some legal argument. I would be delighted to read it.

Baroness Goldie Portrait Baroness Goldie (Con)
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I will address the noble and learned Lord’s point in a moment, but if I may continue with my tribute, it is very important for this House to send a message to our Armed Forces that we absolutely value everything they are doing. I am particularly conscious of that at this time. Their contribution is extraordinary and invaluable to the country, and we would want them to know just how much we appreciate that.

The noble and learned Lord will be aware that the jury system is not part of the service justice system. It is the view of the Government that the service justice system is robust, that this Bill will make distinct improvements to it and that it has to operate in a manner which makes it fit for purpose both overseas and across the United Kingdom. That is what this Bill does. I beg to move.

Lord Morris of Aberavon Portrait Lord Morris of Aberavon (Lab)
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If the Minister will allow me, will she deal with the inconsistency between the Lord Chancellor’s remarks this morning that he seeks to embed the right to trial by jury in statute and the fact that, at the same time, this is being denied to service men and women?

Baroness Goldie Portrait Baroness Goldie (Con)
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I think the noble and learned Lord overlooks the tradition of the service justice system and why we have such a system. That has been one of its characteristics over decades: that is the character of the system. It exists to serve a particular purpose, which most people in this Chamber acknowledge, and that is why it has different characteristics from the civilian justice system.

Lord Thomas of Gresford Portrait Lord Thomas of Gresford (LD)
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My Lords, I thank everybody who has contributed to this debate. Many fine words have been said and two issues have really come forward. The first is the denial of the right to trial by jury to members of the Armed Forces—they sign away that right when they join up. This issue will not go away but will rumble on and on.

The second issue relates to victims and the problems so clearly delineated to Sarah Atherton’s committee. She had representations from more than 4,000 women serving in the Armed Forces, all going the same way. Indeed, one person from an NGO which helps them said she was looking after 600 servicewomen, none of whom wanted trial by court martial; all wanted their right to have a trial in the ordinary courts so that the alleged transgressors could be brought to justice in the ordinary way.

This is absolutely fundamental to the constitution of this country. Regarding what the noble and learned Lord, Lord Morris, said a moment ago, in his press release today Mr Raab talked about the Magna Carta, the Bill of Rights, the Slave Trade Act and so on, calling them to his aid in supporting the right to trial by jury. It is a simple point.

I am very conscious that there are good things in this Bill that I have worked for for ages, such as majority verdicts in courts martial. I do not want to see this Bill fail, nor do I want the military to be let loose at this particular time by this Bill falling for lack of time. Therefore, I do not propose to press my amendment, but I hope we will come back to this issue. I hope that that will not be in five years’ time with our next Armed Forces Bill but that, once statistics emerge and show us the true situation, the Government will have the guts to admit that they were wrong.

This is not a historic thing going back decades. Jurisdiction was given to courts martial to try murder, manslaughter and rape in 2006, so this is barely 15 years old. Consequently, it is not a great military tradition— if it is being presented in that way. Up until that time, the service justice system insisted that offences committed by servicemen in the United Kingdom, on the soil of this country, should be tried in the ordinary courts. I hope we get back to that very quickly. I will not press the matter and beg leave to withdraw Motion A1.

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Moved by
Baroness Goldie Portrait Baroness Goldie
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That this House do not insist on its Amendment 2B, to which the Commons have disagreed for their Reason 2C.

2C: Because the proposed legal duty is unnecessary having regard to the Government’s existing obligations.